Wow, so it's been too long since my last post. It was an incredibly busy summer and fall for me, and I expect for many of you as well. In between celebrations and vacations I've been editing a manuscript, sending it out into the world and trying to coax my brain back into the free and creative head-space necessary to start something new. Sometimes I just stare at a blank page and feel an overwhelming sense of inequity. I can't put a single word down on the page.
One of the phrases I've been mulling over for months now has been one I heard from a dear friend. "Trust the Process." As writers, we've all probably heard this a time or two. I've heard it, thought "brilliant!" but what exactly was so brilliant about it? It sounds really good, but what does it mean?
What is "the process?"
For me, the process is the way I go about relaying a story from my imagination into words and images for others to read. That process in longhand is as follows:
I make a cup of tea. I read some poetry. I listen to some music. I might even take a walk if I'm still not ready to write. Once I'm feeling the itch to sit down and start, I get comfy in my writing space, open my laptop and...
I start to procrastinate, but I call it "just checking in" on the world before starting to write. I do that for about 20 to 30 minutes. Next I pull up a blank document and...
I stare at it for waaaay tooo long...I stare at it so long it starts to swim like water before my eyes.
I stare as though brilliant words will start to pour out any second...wait for it...
And no, no brilliant words...sigh. I guess I'll just have to write something...anything...anything...anything...anything...
Anything you can do I can do better...lalalala....okay so typing the lyrics to a song doesn't count as writing does it?
Eventually I might get something going, a short paragraph or two on what a character looks like or what their bedroom looks like or who their best friend is. Eventually this pre-writing starts to build up and a story emerges. It's slow, for me. Painstakingly slow. Perhaps that is why I don't update my blog all that often? I don't know, but I know that I do have a process, however painstaking and teeth-pulling it may be.
So, what does it mean to trust that process?
Well, if I have a process, I have to own it. It's MY process. Me...I'm the process, sort of. So if I'm the process, what does it mean to trust it? It means I have to trust...
I have to trust myself.
I'm getting dangerously close to therapy territory here and I must quote my dear friend again who says that every MFA degree in creative writing should come with a voucher for therapy.
Writing is like taking a journey into yourself.
In order to write, you must first know your characters, in order to know your characters, you must understand people, in order to understand people you have to start with yourself. Understand yourself, understand others, understand your characters and why they do what they do. Sounds like a stint in therapy doesn't it?
We put ourselves into our writing, and we can't do that without an understanding of who that person is. In order to trust the process, we must first trust the person from whom the process originates. I have to trust myself, trust what I've learned, trust my intuition and instincts, trust my imagination.
We trust whom we are comfortable with. You have to be comfortable with you. I have to be comfortable with myself. Trust me, none of this come easily to most people.
It certainly doesn't come easily to me, but writing does present itself as a sort of therapy, forcing you to dig deeper into your own interior world to understand your characters and their world.
Learning to trust the process = learning to trust myself...
I had to stop beating myself up when I wasn't writing. Time away from writing can be valuable, especially if you are doing things that stimulate your creative soul. I had to start trusting that my process would work if I let it. I had to stop trying to force myself outside of my process to get the words on the page.
What works for you? Do you need to sit down and set a timer? Then do it. Do you need to wander around the house aimlessly for an hour before the words start to flow? Then do it, and don't beat yourself up about it. Sometimes, trusting your process is learning to go gently and to have compassion for the muse that waits. Sometimes it means discipline and turning off the internet, sometimes it means giving yourself a limit on internet time.
I trust that my process will eventually lead me to a story...as long as I continue to follow my process and learn to be gentle on myself... and as long as I don't give up...
which leads me to my topic for next week...
I started a haiku-a-day practice while I was in my master’s
program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. It was an activity bent on keeping
me writing every day, creating something, even if it was a small something. I
loved the activity, finding subjects, searching for the right words, the
feeling when all the words were at last in the right place and the picture came
together with a sigh of contentment.
I did that for several weeks, forgot for a few more weeks,
moved into my final semester, graduated and released the practice with receipt
Recently, I’ve been working on reviving the practice along
with, or in addendum to, my practice of calm and stillness. There is something
about the simplicity of a haiku, its simple structure and rhythm; that soothes
my soul and enters into the stillness like a small flower blooming quietly on a
I missed it. I didn’t know I had, but when I took up my
pencil a few days ago and a tiny word picture emerged it felt like a minor
miracle. I wrote another one today and again, had the sense of accomplishment
in a few square inches of white paper space.
It’s easy to get bogged down with the writing of an ENTIRE
novel. It’s easy to forget the heart of your story amidst the commas and
semi-colons, the rising action and falling action, the denouement and three-act
structure. During the Mobius strip editing process, a novel can feel like
nothing but wreckage. Amidst the wreckage and detritus, I lose the basic feeling
of accomplishment and instead of a creator I feel like a destroyer. It takes a toll and in order to keep going I
have to refresh my mind and soul and creative spirit.
So, I started writing my haiku a day and added “while on a
walk” to it. The weather is only just beginning to show Spring in it, shaking
off its winter layers and blooming with color and birdsong. It’s lovely to be
outside again, stretching my body and mind and letting go of the Mobius strip
for a while, letting my mind play with words, pictures and sounds. It’s remembering
all over again why I like writing as much as I do.
It’s as though I’ve been hibernating over the winter along
with my creativity and my stories. After weeks of not writing, I gave myself
permission to NOT WRITE then somehow revoked the permission and had a small
meltdown about NOT WRITING (how lazy are you? Seemed to be my internal running
commentary) from which emerged a blog post about letting go of the noise of the
world, read: *publishing process,* negative self-talk and fears, and letting
your story live and breathe. (For that post check out the link to my guest post
After the meltdown and subsequent blog post I started to
slowly uncurl my fists, the ones I curled up and pounded on the wall in front
of me crying out “I WILL finish this edit!” and which did no good at all…I
started to uncurl my heart, which I had been protecting, and look for my
characters again, look for their hearts and their struggles and I started to
care again for them, deeply and passionately care about what happens to them.
Armed with my haiku and walks and (deep calming breathing) I’m
ready now, ready to get back to the earnest work of being a writer. I’m ready
for my “daily haiku mind stretches” and settling back down into the novel edit.
Post a haiku in the comments section if you
feel like sharing. I’d love to see them!
Here's the deal: I will answer a few questions about my writing process and send you on to see some more blogs, so here goes:
What are you working on?
I am working on several things right now. I am editing a YA project that is vaguely in the magical realism genre about a teenage girl who is a healer. When I get bogged down with editing, I work on pre-writing and world building for a Dystopian YA novel or maybe it's quasi-near future or something...hence the pre-writing. It's fun to world build and play around with ideas. When I'm pre-writing I often draw the spaces my characters exist in, or take pictures of places that are significant in the story that exist in my real world. I would like to get a cork board to pin them to so I can look at them while I'm working, but I haven't done that yet.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Hmmm...well, I think I use magical realism a bit differently than it's normally used, it's not exactly magic and it's not exactly magical-realism. I'm being vague, but it's hard to explain without being specific and I don't like to be too specific when I'm still working on a project. I want my readers to feel as though they exist in the world my characters exist in. I hope they can see the colors and feel the textures of the world. I hope my characters feel real to them, real and honest. I put my heart on the page and I hope that shows through.
Why do you write what you do?
I write YA because I remember high school in vivid color and in vivid emotional detail. I remeÿmber what it was like to feel insecure and alone. High School shapes us and changes us. One of my escapes in times of trial was to read. I read everything I could get my hands on. The YA genre was really starting to emerge and develop at the time and has continued to grow. I'm excited to be a part of a genre that meant so much to me in my teen years. I hope that something I write, can one day be a comfort and solace to someone.
How does your writing process work?
For me, I start to get ideas about a story and it tends to just percolate in my brain until a full story emerges. Then I start writing it down and hopefully, eventually it becomes a plot and the characters start to walk and talk like real people. JIt's a different process each time I write something new. Sometimes I have the full story in my head and I know exactly how it will go, other times I know the emotional story better than I know that actual story and it takes time to get it solid in my head before I can get it on the page.
When I sit down to write, I tend to need a lot of time to get into the story. I like to make playlists of music that sets the tone for the book I'm working on, that helps. I don't sit at a desk. I have a small couch in my office and warm comfy blankets. I like to wrap up in one on a cold day and drink hot tea and dive in to the story. On warm sunny days, I like to sit on my deck under an umbrella with iced tea and my laptop. I like to be comfortable and happy when I'm writing. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I need quiet. I used to write at my favorite indie bookstore, but it closed down a few years back and a better substitute has yet to be found.
Now that I have a cozy home office, I prefer to write there, and my puppy likes to snuggle up next to me a take a nap to the sound of the tickety tack of the keyboard. It sounds lovely doesn't it? Sometimes it is. However there are many days where I can't even look at my laptop without feeling crushing defeat because I have NO idea where my story is going, or I feel inadequate to the task of writing anything worth reading. I turn my head and put my hand up trying not to see my writing space as I happily go about baking a cake or brownies or something really delicious because THAT will help me feel better...right?! Oh well, writing, for me, has its ups and downs. Sometimes it's really hard and sometimes it sings like sparrow. Sometimes I feel brilliant and other times I feel, at best, mediocre. Always, there is the drive to write, the desire to tell a story, the need to share an emotional truth in words. I can't NOT write. So I have learned, and am still learning, to embrace the mess that is the life of a writer all the heights and depths of it.
I want to thank Melanie Fishbane for tagging me in the blog tour! Make sure you check out her blog.
For my first post in a really long time...check out my guest post at my dear friend Ellar Cooper's blog! I'll try to have a new post for everyone next week. Everyone who might still be checking my blog, that is...
This word resonates in my mind over and over so many times
it loses its meaning.
Remember. Remember. Remember
To put back together, to collect, to coalesce…
I remember my mother and the way she laughed when I was
being mischievous, a small chuckle, the lift of an eyebrow.
I remember a girl who shared
her limeade with me at lunch and told funny stories. She rode bikes with me to
the Quik-Stop on Saturdays where we bought candy which we ate throughout the rest of the
day, riding our bikes across the footbridge stopping in the middle just as a
train went thundering by underneath us. We would lean against the railing as
the wind whipped through our hair. I was nine.
I remember my
Grandfather’s tattoo he got while in the navy, an original biker
bad-a&&, had a faded red heart with a sword through it. I remember him
playing crazy-eights with me. I was ten.
I remember a boy, who called me “Wonder Years.” I remember my mother holding me while I cried
after I learned that he'd died. The first boy who ever noticed me and thought I
was special. I remember my sapphire ring, sparkling and shiny. I
remember how the boy took it and tried to put it on a finger and it sat like a
small crown at the very top. I remember losing that ring and with it, a
tangible connection to the boy. I was fourteen.
I remember a day where so few words were spoken because
there were none to say. I remember the simple silence that connected us all on
a still, beautiful, blue and cloudless, sunny, September day; a day that had no
right to be so perfect, unless it knew somehow that it was to be the last perfect
day; the perfect day, separating before and after. A nation shattered into so
many pieces. I was twenty-four.
Remember. Remember. Remember.
We put our pieces back together, one small memory-shard at a
time. It will never be the entire image, the entirety of a person’s life, more
like a mosaic, many pieces making up the whole; a broken and
beautiful mosaic of what was and what is; the beauty of strength and courage,
the beauty of resilience, the beauty of community, and the healing power of
Not many of us get the opportunity to have a writing space that is all
our own. Sometimes your writing space is whatever seat is available at
the fourth coffee shop you've visited. Sometimes your writing space is a
train, commuting to work, or a bus commute etc. What works for you? Where are you the most comfortable when you write?
Why do you think that is? If your favorite spot outside your home is a
particular coffee shop, what color are the walls there? What is it about
that spot that inspires your creativity? Is it the music? The coffee
smells? The sounds of people chatting or typing? See what you can do in
your own writing space to make it inspiring. If you don't have the
luxury of a writing space, find a coffee shop that suits your
First: If you are lucky enough and you do have your own space here are a few ideas: 1. Paint your space an inspiring or calming color.
I thought about where it was that I found myself most comfortable to
write, and realized that sitting on the couch in my living room was
among the most comfortable of spaces for me. The wall color in the
living room is a deep, rich burgundy and I was already there, because my
writing space is painted the same color. I love the rich red. It's
inspiring, warm and calming. Our living room has an oriental rug, I have a different style but still beautifully patterned oriental rug in my writing space that complements the wall color. Everyone reacts differently to colors, so find the one that suits you. Do some experimentation. Think about where you feel the most relaxed and calm and creative. What color are the walls in that space? or what color is most dominant in that space that you gravitate to. If you can, paint your writing space that color. Decorate the walls with whatever makes you feel good. I hung several pictures that I love. I have a friend who put up beautiful decals of birds on a lovely green wall color. I'm thinking of trying to ink an inspiring quote around the top edge of my walls. I'll post a picture if I do. 2.
Use furniture that helps you feel comfortable physically and mentally.
Use what you have and don't forget that you can always spend a few
dollars on stain or paint to make an old piece feel new and fresh. Shop at garage sales for pieces of furniture that can be re-purposed or fixed. Pinterest has a wealth of ideas on this topic. I was fortunate in that as a part of my graduation present from loved ones, I was able to purchase a cozy loveseat and ottoman with storage (in lieu of a desk). I also bought colorful pillows and crocheted a warm blanket. I re-stained a wooden two drawer file-cabinet and gave it new hardware. I used existing bookshelves and a wingback chair that was my mother's. I've never felt more comfortable in a space before. That's when the
title changed from "Office" to my "Writing Space."
3. Surround yourself with items that you love and items that help you get into your characters heads.
I hung up pictures I
love. I have a whiteboard opposite my love seat because I like to work
out ideas on it. I have a small zen rock garden, curtains that can be
opened to let in light or kept closed and block out light. I have a
magnetic board with magnetic poetry. The board was lovingly crafted by
my supremely talented husband. I have candles and a small Virginia Woolf
doll. I also have items that remind me of my characters, jewelry or small items that they might have or love. Books they would read etc. This is my "Writing Space" and I love it. When I come in here, sit down and open my laptop, I'm ready to write. I feel inspired.
4. Create a music playlist that sets the tone for your piece.
Self-explanatory. Some can write with music on, some cannot. If you can't, then create a playlist of a songs that you can listen to before diving in, then turn the music off and begin. If you can write with the music on, then enjoy the life it can bring to your writing.
5. Because it's fun, have a zen rock garden to play in when you need time to think. I made my own out of inexpensive hobby sand, pretty rocks that I've found and some shells both from our honeymoon and from other beach excursions. I found a simple tray at a hobby store and put it all together. It cost the seven dollars for the tray and a few dollars for the sand. If you don't want a zen rock garden find something else that you can do while your mind is noodling on an idea or scene etc. actual physical puzzles, not the ones you do on computer. Play with silly putty or play-dough or clay. Learn to knit or crochet. Doing something with your hands can be a fantastic activity that allows the brain to work on your writing when you aren't writing. Guys, yes you too can learn to crochet! If you'd rather not, then pull out your old set of Lincoln Logs and build something, or buy a new set.
Don't be afraid to feel childish. There is nothing like creating something with your hands that allows for more creative writing to occur. Girls, if you're not up for crocheting either, find your old blocks or Lincoln Logs, or take up woodworking, woodburning, woodcarving, mosaic tiling..... I really urge you as a writer to find something else besides writing that is your creative outlet. You'll thank me. I hope... ;-)
Second: If you don't have your own space: i.e. You spend your writing time in coffee shops or libraries or some other public type of space... 1. Take your space with you, Have a writing bag that is your writing space wherever you go. Make sure that it is only your writing bag and used for nothing else. Pack your writing bag with everything you need to ensure a positive writing experience. Book of poetry (you'll see), Earbuds for your pre-writing ritual. I often use a whiteboard to help work through ideas. Here are a few that are portable and can fit in a pocket or a writing bag:
Check out this pocket one or the following from thinkgeek: Think Geek
http://www.amazon.com/Mini-Ideaboard-Portable-Whiteboard-Laptop/dp/B00A5W0V4S/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1378747028&sr=8-10&keywords=small+portable+whiteboard+easel If you don't want to invest in a whiteboard or can't just now, then try this: get some 3x5 or 4x6 cards. Tape them together and have them laminated. A dry erase marker will work great on this and you can make it whatever size best fits in your writing bag. Take a small comfortable
pillow or small blanket with you. You may look like you're taking up
residence at the coffee shop, but writer's are known for their
quirkiness right? Own it:-) If you don't want to take a blanket or pillow wear your favorite hoodie or sweater, whatever you feel most comfortable in, or most inspired wearing. Of course there is always the option of a sign you can hang on your table: (feel free to print off and use this version I've created!)
2. Have a pre-writing ritual that will allow you to dive into writing no matter where you are.
As mentioned above, I like to create a playlist of
music that evokes the mood and tone of the piece I'm working on. I know there are a great many writers who employ this method. I also
like to pick up a book of poetry and read a few poems before I dive in. Both of these things can be achieved while writing in a public space. Don't forget to pack your writing bag with your favorite book of poetry and earbuds! If poetry isn't your thing, find whatever reading inspires you and take that with you. I like to make a cup of my favorite tea, let my dog out to play while I sit on the porch thinking about the next sceneI'm about to work on. When
Rosina is ready to go inside, I take my tea, a bone or toy for Rosina
and we go into my office. She occupies one side of my loveseat and I the
other. She gets down to business, chewing on her favorite bone, and I
get down to business working on the next scene. Eventually Rosina tires
and snuggles close and snores her way through several hours of my
writing time. This works for us. When you're in a public space, find a routine that works for you. Find the best table or workspace, get your coffee or tea, open your laptap. Listen to your play list etc. Find a set routine that tells your brain that you are getting ready to write, make it all your own. What works for me may not work for you. Experiment and find out. 3.
Take with you, in your writing bag, items that you connect with your
character that you can either wear, like pieces of jewelry, or items you can take out
and look at when considering your character. I
often wear a necklace or bracelet that is something my character wears
or relates to.
4. As I said, some can listen to music and write, some can't. Either way, have earbuds so that you can listen to music or find something else soothing that can help you
tune out distractions. Itunes has a variety of sounds like rainforest
or thunderstorms etc. that can really help. 5. If you're feeling really quirky, you can buy one of those zen rock gardens in a box and set it up wherever you are. :-)
So, here it is, my final closing idea:
No matter what space you have, no matter how small, how private or public-make it your own in any way you can. Feel free to share your ideas with me! I'd love to see pictures of your writing spaces, and or travel writing spaces. I'd love to hear from you about what pre-writing routine works best for you! I'll include a picture of my own writing space soon. Thanks for reading! Jessica ps I have changed the settings so anyone who wants to comment should be able to without too much trouble! Check in next week when I write the third installment in my series: Writing and the Art of Self-Care