Are You a Talented Derelict?

The creative life has to be kept in order on a regular basis. It’s not good enough to go to it for one day, or a few, a couple times a year. Creativity requires the luxury of time, which we must carve out for ourselves—even if it’s only fifteen minutes. Creative people need that luxury of time: time with friends, time with family, time to themselves with no agenda, even time to do their creative work.

We know in our bones what is right and what to do about it. Even if we say this is not so. Even if we will not admit it out loud. Even if the rigors of life distance us from our deeply intuitive lives. Even if, for reasons that seemed like good ones at the time, we have accepted permanent exile from our creativity impulses.

The truth is that creative people who don’t take time to take care of their creative life become very, very cranky. I have heard all the excuses that any creative person might knit up: I can’t right now. I’m not talented. I’m bored. I’m not important. I’m not educated enough. I have no ideas. I don’t know how. I don’t know what. I don’t know when. I don’t know why. I’m too busy. I don’t have time. I don’t have money. I don’t…I don’t…I don’t…

The promise of a creative life is very scary.

But, perhaps you didn’t know that being scared is most often very, very good for a creative person: it shows us what will happen if we allow ourselves to become talented derelicts. And often that’s scary enough to scare us back into creating again.

Don’t spend time wondering how you lost your way. It can be difficult to know exactly where we lost our way, for it is an insidious process, one that doesn’t occur in one day, but rather over a long period of time. We learn early to act on what others say, value and expect. Thus, we walk a long way down the wrong path before realize we did not actually choose this road.

Turn around, find your path. Walk your path.

Writing Tip #11

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Take your eyes off the price and put them on the prize. It’s important to write about things that matter to you. Moral intelligence creates authenticity in a writer. Set yourself something in writing that you are willing to reach for and, therefore, take risks for.

Writing Practice: the dreaded 15 minute write

Almost every writing teacher argues that the basic unit of writing is writing practice, usually a timed exercise, with the admonition that through practice you actually do get better.

However, I have never enjoyed exercises like: Look at a plant. Write the life of the plant – what it’s done, what it’s seen, where it’s heading, its thoughts. I have never found advice like, try writing in your notebook upside down, or turn the book sideways, or write outside the margins to be helpful. I just do not believe that these small tasks will force me to think in creative ways, that forcing my brain to think outside the lines will make me a better writer.

I used to despise writing practice.

I felt like I had little enough precious time and I did not want to fritter it away on writing that was just practice. After rereading Brande’s Becoming a Writer, Campbell’s The Artist’s Way, Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, I revised my aversion to writing practice. I mixed up their ideas and came up with a system that works for me, and it is one that I now encourage my writing students to use as well.

I advocate writing for either fifteen minutes or three pages, whichever comes first. However, from there my approach differs. I warm up with the first page of writing. I am primping the pump, so the rules are simple: Write without stopping. Do not be concerned with being good. It is warming up the writing muscle, just like stretches warm up our physical muscles.

But after the first page is done, I switch to deliberate writing, and this different type of writing. This is where I deviate from Brande, Goldberg and Campbell. In the next two pages I generate new writing. It’s deliberate. It’s specific. This advice does not originate with me—I got it from Priscilla Long who said, “The writing done in writing practice can be about anything . . .It can be an observation exercise. It can be work on an essay, story, article, or scene. It can be used to conceptualize new work” (p. 15,16).

Since I read that advice a year ago, I have done writing practice almost every day. I have written poetry. I have done character sketches. I have drafted new essays. I have done observation exercises. I’ve moaned and complained (I do it once in a while). Usually, I plan, conceptualize and draft new work.

I agree with Long when she says, “In a busy life, a week and then two weeks can go by in no time at all, with little or no writing done. The practice of writing for fifteen minutes per day simply deletes this problem” (p. 15). More importantly, writing for fifteen minutes a day helps commit to safekeeping a woman’s writing life.

The One Hard Thing Rule

In June, I developed my One Hard Thing Rule: I do one hard thing every day. For me, it is often something that needs to be done that I’ve been avoiding.

It can be a simple as mopping the kitchen floor or writing an email that I’ve been avoiding.

Weeks after I started this, I came across Angela Duckworth’s work and something that she calls, the “Hard Thing Rule”. It’s a ritual, where, every single day, you have to do one hard thing. For Duckworth, “A hard thing is something that requires daily deliberate practice”.

It’s satisfying to write down the One Hard Thing I’ve done each day. Sometimes, it’s even fun. But, most importantly, every day is an opportunity for me to perform one small act of bravery that has the potential to change the course of my (writing) life. Duckworth believes that by doing hard things is how we develop grit. I believe it makes me a better writer. It is a way of purposely, safely, joyfully challenging myself to do just One Hard Thing every day.

Writing is hard. Committing words to a page day in and day out is hard.

It requires some amount of confidence and commitment.

Writing might be a passion, but it requires perseverance. It requires grit.

Duckworth said, “Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it” (Chapter 4).

That just may be the advantage of the One Hard Thing Rule for women writers.

Sacrifice Something & Write

If you’ve been reading my blog, by now you’ve figured out that I think many of the secrets to writing are, frankly, annoying: don’t watch TV, get up at 3 a.m. and write, give up housework, or shop online. While none of these are inherently bad, they don’t really address the reasons why some women can’t be Super-Woman-Writer. Ie: be a wife and mother, work full time, attend graduate school, exercise 45 minutes a day, and still find time to write a novel a year.

After much reading and thinking, I think that the bottom line is that to make time to write, you must sacrifice something from your day. The sacrifice can be sleep, it can that you order take-out once a week instead of making supper , or you giving up Netflix, or parties, or hobbies. But even that sounds much simpler than it is. In the end, I think it might be easier to ask yourself if you are willing NOT to do one thing and then use that time to write. I think that not doing one thing changes the dance we have with our culture and society just a little bit. It lets us stand up for writing dreams. Try it for a week. See if it helps. I think you’ll be surprised.

Why Can’t I Find Time to Write? Part 5

This is the fifth in a several-part post.

The theme of virtually every article about how to write is straightforward: Just do it. Just find the time to write. Just write! So why don’t we? How can so many women be so morally bankrupt that they can’t take this simple advice?

Here’s what I think: we try to pretend that the advice we are given is really good and the failure lies with all the women who can’t make it work for them. That’s wrong. It doesn’t make any sense. Is it not more logically that the advice we are given is just really bad advice for women writers? In a Paris Review Interview Toni Morrison admits that she has no routine. She says, “I am not able to write regularly. I have never been able to do that—mostly because I have always had a nine-to-five job. I had to write either in between those hours, hurriedly, or spend a lot of weekend and predawn time” (p. 3). This woman gives me hope.