How To Keep Writing When Life Throws You A Punch

Rolling-With-Lifes-Punches

So you’ve been writing your 500 words a day, researching your new novel, making the revisions your editor suggested, starting a new essay, approaching an article deadline… when life throws you a punch. Your boyfriend leaves. Your kid is failing school. Your mom breaks her hip. You have a major fallout with a friend. Your mammogram is suspicious.

You’ve had one of those days. Or weeks. Maybe one of those months. You’re knocked off kilter. And so is your creative output.

Your focused mind becomes a traffic jam of negative thoughts. The words sit lifeless on the page. Whatever you’ve written, now seems crap.

Trying to write a book is challenging on the best of days. Now, the sadness or worry you’re feeling is compounded with each passing unproductive day. The fewer words you write, the more frustrated you become. 

Writers_Block

On days like these, I wish I were the kind of person who can don emotional blinders and keep churning out the pages. 

Writing itself sustains me during ordinary times, which is why it is essential to keep at it during hard times. Yet sometimes I find this extraordinarily difficult, particularly during the past two and a half years since my father was killed. The traumatic experience shed my already thin skin and it hasn’t grown back. Despite my healing, my brain remains sensitive to shock and perceived threats.  It doesn’t take much to knock me over. 

It’s happening right now.

How do you keep writing when life throws you a punch? 

Notice I didn’t say “if” but “when,” because it will happen. Often in waves. Disappointment. Anger. Hurt. Shock. Grief. Worry.  Emotions that can cut through creativity. 

I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Here are a few things I’ve tried.

1. Take time out—but not too long

You wonder how you can possibly write anything worthwhile when you feel so bad. Your first impulse is probably to cast writing aside and attempt to numb yourself or engage in distracting activities.  Give yourself permission to have a bad week, to take time off—just try to designate a time limit. When a student I advise is crushed about a college rejection, I give him 3 days to mope, rant, or binge watch Netflix. Then it’s time to move on. So go ahead, curl up on the couch…just don’t stay there.

2. Switch writing gears

If you find it impossible to connect with your current project, try starting something new (but not too big).  Revise/edit an older manuscript.  Work on submissions.  Engage in research or brainstorm ideas.  Or write in a different genre. (Like I’m doing now with this blog post.) Read something inspiring. Journal writing can help you grapple with the problem and clear your mind.  Any writing you can do will make you feel better. 

3. Expect something good

There’s a Yiddish saying that originated in Chassidic teaching, “Tracht Gut Vet Zien Gut “—“Think good, and it will be good.”  The idea is that positive thinking will not only help you weather hard times but can actually make positive things happen.  I take this to mean that if you expect good things, you are more likely to attract them. The Universe may surprise you by sending a salve for your wound. Strange as it seems, this has worked for me.  Just this week, when feeling my lowest, I heard from a special person I hadn’t spoken to in years but had been recently thinking about. I also had a story accepted for publication.

Sometimes, though, the punch is more than a bad week or a misunderstanding. It’s a serious illness. The break-up of a marriage. The death of a loved one.  It may take a lot more time to find your words again, to rise out of the darkness. During such trials, I hope you have a special person to lift you up. 

Famed American novelist, Henry James, wrote, in July 1883, a most tender and compassionate letter of advice and comfort to his friend and fellow writer, Grace Norton of Boston.  Grace was despondent after the death of a family member.  Henry encouraged his dear friend not to give up on life.

My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don’t think, don’t feel, any more than you can help, don’t conclude or decide—don’t do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain.

James’s concluding words to Grace lift me each time I read them.

Sorrow comes in great waves…but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us… we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we, after a manner, see.

Cemetery_Scene

Paul Christian Gelutu

You can read the letter in its entirety at  Letters of Note–Henry James or hear it on YouTube.

Do You Need An Accountability Partner?

 

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Do you have something big you want to accomplish but haven’t?  Do you have trouble sticking to a long-term goal?

Last month, I wrote about finding inspiration when you are creatively stuck. One reader wrote me that she has no problem finding inspiration. “I’m filled with creative visions.  My problem is always follow-through, especially when the going gets rough.”    

As a writer, I relate to this predicament. Ideas come easily to me. The beginning stage of writing a novel is kind of like falling in love—everything is new and exciting.  Possibilities abound.  But sticking with it through the long haul inevitably means experiencing frustration, disappointment, and dry spells. And yes, sometimes loneliness and despair.

Whether you’re trying to write your first book, save for retirement, lose 20 pounds, or train for a marathon, staying on track is the hardest part.  Meeting any long-term goal requires continual motivation, discipline, and fortitude. Let’s be honest–who has an abundant supply of these traits?

If you recognize yourself here, then you may benefit from an accountability partner. An AP is a trusted individual who holds you responsible for achieving your goals. In working with an accountability partner, you identify goals, then come up with a short-term plan of action. You then report your progress through regular checkpoints via email, phone, Skype, or in-person.

An accountability partner can also offer:

-Advice and perspective

-Ideas and resources

-A listening ear

–Support and motivation

–Brainstorming

Sometimes, an AP is just a kind soul who volunteers 15 minutes a week to keep you on track. Then there’s the reciprocal partnership in which you serve as each other’s AP. Psychological research backs up its effectiveness. Just finding a partner with whom to share your goals increases the likelihood that you will achieve them. It’s  a lot more fun to take a daily power walk with a friend than go at it alone for 45 minutes. Knowing you must check in with your weight-loss buddy each week makes it easier to pass up that chocolate donut. Reporting your daily word count to a fellow writer keeps you glued to your laptop (and off Facebook). 

By working with an AP, you are harnessing the power of positive peer pressure to motivate change.

Tips for finding an Accountability Partner:

Look to a trusted friend, neighbor, co-worker, classmate, or family member. If you’re a writer, try posting a request on a writer’s forum. Check out local writer’s groups. Network at a writing conference.  

Tips for Making it Work:

—Know what you want to get out of the partnership.

—Find a partner who is looking for similar goals/results.

—Find a partner who is in a similar place of experience.

—Decide on the method and frequency of communication.

—Be honest.

—Be willing to invest equally in the relationship.

 I recently found my AP—or I should say, she found me.  Connie and I live 800 miles apart.  We email and talk on the phone. We share goals and next action steps. We identify challenges and offer each other feedback. Why is it always easier to help someone else with her problem areas? Though we are working on different types of writing projects, the process is similar.  We both must make time for our writing and avoid distraction. We both need to track our word/page count. We both must troubleshoot and problem-solve. 

Since I have a lot more writing and publishing experience than Connie, I’ve had to identify the areas in which she can best help me. I won’t be looking to her for critique—I’ve already found someone for that.  Rather, it’s the act of stating my goals out loud to another human and reporting my progress that matters.  If I don’t complete my stated goals, Connie helps me figure out why. Her coaching background offers me techniques for deciding which projects I should invest my time in. In turn, I suggested that we each track our time and keep a Got Done list.  Already, I’ve noticed an uptick in my productivity.

This new relationship is a work-in-progress.  The only challenge so far is that Connie and I really enjoy talking to each other, so phone meetings go off in many directions. Maybe this just means that, in addition to finding an AP,  I’ve made a new friend.

Have you worked with an accountability partner? If so, what were the results?

Finding Inspiration in 2018

Inspiration_2018

 

“There were so many frightful times when I was totally “unilluminated” and feared that I could never write again.”   

                     ~Carson McCullers, Illumination and Night Glare

 

Where do you find inspiration when the well is dry, the light dim?  How do you engage in creative work amidst the onslaught of headlines of terror attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters, and White House insanity?  As you attend to the relentless demands of everyday life, how do you carve space for illumination?

Here are some of my ideas and those gleaned from other writers and artists.

l.  Start the day with beauty.

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Do you start the day with the news report? Is your phone screen the first image your eyes take in?  This is a hard habit to break but doing so can do wonders for your mood and muse. I know it’s hard to think about beauty when you’re getting ready for work or trying to get the kids off to school. But taking a moment to notice beauty, rather than the news headlines, can lift your spirit.

Instead of checking your Twitter feed, try feeding your soul.  Take in scenes of nature.  Research studies have demonstrated that just looking at nature scenes can reduce stress and increase pleasant feelings. This alone may open the door to inspiration. 

The beauty of language soothes and inspires me. Every morning at breakfast, I try to read a poem. This warms up my brain for creative work which, for me, is usually done early in the day. 

2.  Take A Walk

Walking has long been considered a way to open the mind. Naturalist, writer, and avid walker Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal,  “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”  Walking is especially helpful for me when I’m about to begin a new writing project. Walking engages our senses, clears our mind of clutter, and gets the blood flowing—all helpful for finding that creative spark. (If you’re interested in learning more about the cognitive benefits of walking, check out Why Walking Helps Us Think, New Yorker, 9/3/14.) 

3.  Create a Playlist

It goes without saying that music can inspire.  Music can also serve as an anchor to a specific time in your life and take you right back to the associated emotions and memories. I’ve created mood playlists—melancholy, tense, romantic, happy—to help me get into a specific scene. Some writers use a specific playlist while working on a novel. Young adult author Rainbow Rowell’s main characters bond over 1980’s music. The author listened to these songs while drafting her novel, Eleanor & Park. (Rainbow shared the playlist with her fans on Spotify and YouTube.) 

4.  Learn from the Masters

StephenKing

All art is about craft, so learn your craft. Read wisdom from the masters–Virginia Wolfe, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Chekov, Ursula Le Guin, John Gardner. Take solace that even the greats lose their muse (and sometimes their minds).  The successful artists you admire all doubt themselves, muddle through the middle, give up on manuscripts, have dry spells, and get rejected—just like you!   I keep several craft books near my desk. One of my favorites is Stein on Writing by Sol Stein.  When I sit down to write, I open one book to a random page and absorb the lesson at hand.  I also turn to my collection of inspiring quotes from writers and other creative thinkers.

And as imagination bodies forth

The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen

Turns them to shapes and give to airy nothing

A local habitation and a name.

  ~William Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

5.  Try Pen and Paper

If you always plan, outline, and compose on a computer, try paper and pen for a change. This not only removes the distraction of the internet, but also the delete button. (How many times have you deleted a sentence or idea 5 seconds after typing it?) Writing by hand forces you to slow down, to more closely consider your thoughts and feelings. And just by engaging a different process for creative inspiration, your brain is primed for novelty. You’re ready to brainstorm. Jot down every idea, question, and connection that pops into your head. Don’t censor. Explore all possibilities.

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7.  Stay Curious

 Keep asking questions. Ask: What If? Read widely. Wonder. Talk to people who are very different from you. Jot down snippets of interesting conversation. Visit new places. Collect things. I like buying old postcards and photographs in antique shops and then imagining the stories behind them. 

7.  Show Up

Sometimes its best to just get started. Make art a daily companion, not an occasional visitor. Instead of saying “someday”, choose someday—like today.  Or as Stephen King bluntly states: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” 

Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up.      ~Jane Yolen

8.  Trust the process.

If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, you know how the anxiety of waiting for sleep and worrying that it won’t come actually delays its arrival. I think the same can be true for inspiration.  Instead of fretting that you don’t have the idea, the words, the vision, the melody—you may just need to surrender. Be patient. Wait a while. Some ideas arrive banging on your door, others gestate for years. Keep listening.

 “The statue in the stone. How does the artist find that, see it, before it’s visible?”

                     ~Ursula K. Le Guin

And sometimes in order to go forward, you have to first meet the place where you are stuck and grapple with it on the blank page.

A_Place_of_Darkeness

 When my father was killed, I felt a part of me die with him. Afterward, I could barely speak, let alone write. Inspiration eluded me. Only after braving the demon, could I begin to create again. I didn’t want to write about the experience; I needed to.  Inspiration isn’t always rosy and warm. Inspiration can come from a place of darkness. And by entering this place with courage and vulnerability, you can create something that illuminates.

My latest writing is published in the December issue of Hippocampus Magazine.  It’s the hardest essay I’ve ever written.

How do you capture inspiration?

National Novel Writing Month–Yay or Nay?

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When I became a mother, I couldn’t wait for all the things I would teach my kids.

I wanted to introduce them to music, dance, and art. I wanted them to have happy associations with Jewish observance. I wanted to inspire them to be lifelong learners and book lovers.

What I didn’t expect was how much my kids would teach and inspire me. My oldest daughter encouraged me to write a children’s novel which resulted in an award-winning book.

My son continues to inspire me to not “sweat the small stuff” and to stay positive.

My youngest daughter taught me to trust that she is learning, even though she is not in a traditional school.  Lately, she has been a beacon of light as I crawl through the tunnel of discouragement regarding my second novel  attempt. She understands my battle with perfectionism and, fortunately, does not seem to suffer from that condition.

“You need to try NaNoWriMo” she told me.

She was referring to National Novel Writing Month. Every November thousands of aspiring writers sign on to the project website. Their goal: write a quick first draft of a novel–in a month. That’s 50,000 words in 30 days!  Of course, not everyone succeeds, but the process itself is valuable–so they say.

“It’s all about silencing your inner critic. At least for a month,” Audrey tells me, fully aware of my nemesis.

Audrey has participated in the Youth Division for the past few years. She enjoyed the pep talks, the writing forums, and the rush of seeing her word count rise.

While I enthusiastically supported her participation, NaNoWriMo sounded like torture to me. I had several reasons for not signing on.

l.  I’ve already written a novel.

2. I’m not a fast writer.

3. I hate writing a big long mess.

4. November is a very busy month.

5. I have other writing contests to work on.

6.  I could never win.

7.  Did I mention that I could never write 50,000 words in a month?

You get the idea.

Of course, Audrey has a counter argument for each of my arguments.  “What have you go to lose?” she finally huffed, after I stubbornly clung to my excuses.

I was reminded of my father. Growing up, I suffered from a lot of worry.  Whether is was speaking in front of the class or trying something new, my anxiety would get in the way.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” my father would ask.

Which, today, inspired me to ask myself: What’s the worst thing that could happen by committing myself to NaNoWriMo? 

Answer: 1.  I write a bunch of garbage.  2. I don’t reach the goal.

Hmm. Not the end of the world by any means.

Then I suddenly thought of another question.  What’s the best thing that might happen? 

Answer. 1. I get back on track with the story I want to write. Even better: 2. I get in the flow and churn out a rough draft that gives me something to work on.

I hesitated to the last minute. I thought about being a role model for my writing workshop students (whom I encouraged to enter the Young Writers NaNoWriMo).

So I took the plunge and registered. This is my public announcement.

“Oy, “I’ll never write 50,000 words,” I said to Audrey immediately afterward.

“Mom!”

“Okay. I take it back.”

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The next day I got the first NaNoWriMo pep talk in my inbox. It was from award-winning YA author, Rainbow Rowell.

Wow, she was describing my every thought regarding National Novel Writing Month. Here’s an excerpt from her most excellent post.

Dear Writer,

I was very skeptical about NaNoWriMo at first.

It seemed like something that amateur writers would do. Or young writers. People who needed to be tricked into finishing     their books. I’d already written two books by October 2011, and sold them to publishers, and I couldn’t imagine writing either of them—or anything good—in a month.

That’s not writing, I thought, that’s just piling up words. But then I thought about how wonderful it would be to have a pile of 50,000 words… 

And guess what? Ms. Rowell’s NaNoWriMo first draft ended up becoming her recently published novel, Fangirl.

Her words hit my motivation button. Time to get writing.  Fast!

How do your children inspire you? Are you a NaNoWriMo participant?

New Year’s Resolution Check-up–Are you still there?

March 8thWe are 67 days into the new year.  So how are your resolutions going?

Have you  made progress on the goals you drafted?  Or have you opted out already? If so, you have plenty of company. Researchers estimate between 40-50% of those who make them, fail.

Just after my wrote my last blog post, I noticed that everyone seemed to be writing, talking,or  tweeting about setting goals and resolutions.Turns out, it ain’t easy to form new habits and stick to our goals.  Why?

Human nature and our brains.

I found this research so fascinating that I’ve decided to pursue my Ph.D. (Productivity and Habit Development.) During the upcoming months, I’ll be reading several books and articles on the topic of productivity, habits, and goals. Then I’ll recap my findings here just for you. I’ll try out some of the recommendations, too, and share my results.

The first book I recommend is Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Dr. Heidi Grant HalvorsonSucceed cover Dr. Halvorson is a speaker, psychologist, author, and expert on motivation.  She uses brain and social science to explain why some people succeed and some don’t at achieving goals in every day life. Dr. Halvorson writes in an engaging style and uses examples from her own life. She’s funny, too.

What I really liked about this book is that the author shows how conventional thinking about goals can sometimes be counterproductive.  For example, we hear a lot about the importance of visualizing–think Oprah–making dream boards, thinking positively, imagining our success.  The problem with this strategy, according to Dr. Halvorson, is that we don’t have a realistic picture of the steps we will take or the obstacles we’ll encounter along the way.  We don’t visualize how hard achieving our goal will be!

This certainly resonates with me as I think about the unfinished draft of my new novel that I thought I’d complete last summer.

I invite you to join my in my 2013 Ph.D program.  Please share your ideas, experiences and recommendations.

No New Year’s Resolutions For Me

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I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

I decided some time ago that it wasn’t a good practice for a recovering perfectionist. Like most people, I rarely kept them past March of the New Year. And then my inner critic would rise up and chastise me.  But, I do like the idea of fresh starts and self-improvement. So instead of giving up the resolution thing altogether, I’ve made some tweaks to this practice.

First, I look back at the previous year and ask myself: what worked and what didn’t?  I consider different aspects of my daily life: financial, relationships, teaching, writing, health, organization, happiness.  Then I make revisions–not resolutions.  I usually frame them this way:  Instead of (fill what wasn’t working, I will try (fill in the blank with a revision).

For example, I have a lot of trouble turning off my laptop before bedtime.  I know it disrupts my sleep, something I can’t afford to skimp on.  Yet I  find it hard to stop.  My excuse is that I need to finish “one more thing” or read “one more article”  or “respond to an email” before bed. Face it–the internet is addicting.

Instead of resolving never to use my laptop before bedtime , I’ve chosen four days of the week when I will try not to open my laptop after 8:00 pm. Notice I said, try not to? Yes, that may sound non-committal, but when you tell yourself you are NOT going to ever do _______, it is very likely that you will.

So I cut myself some slack.  I try out a new behavior that will improve the quality of my everyday life.

Revisions, as opposed to resolutions, tend to be more specific.  I’‘ll put a reminder on my calendar to call my brother every other Sunday so we stay in touch.  Research shows that when you make a specific goal with specific steps, you are more likely to reach it. That’s good news for me.

What didn’t work in 2012.

1. Trying to enter every writing contest I possible can.

Revision:  I will be more selective in the contests I enter and Limit myself to entering one contest every 8 weeks.

2.  Giving up my gym membership.

Revision: I will sign-up for a weekly yoga or dance class.

3.  Taking on too many outside commitments.  (This happens every year.  I have never succeeded in changing this behavior!)

Revision: I will consult with my family before accepting more commitments.

Get the idea?

If you try revisions this year, please let me know how you did.

If you are committed to making your resolutions–and keeping them, check out Gretchen Rubin’s helpful blog post on the Happiness Project.

Do you make resolutions? If so, how do you get them to stick?  calvin

Recovering from Perfectionism

This book may save my life!

I have always been a perfectionist, but it wasn’t until about 6 years ago, that I really understood how this mental malady was wreaking havoc on my life.  Still,  awareness alone wasn’t enough to turn me into an easy-going, go-with-the-flow, realistic goal-setter, mistake-forgiver type of person.  I felt powerless to overcome perfectionism’s relentless hold on me.

Eventually, I came to view my perfectionism as a chronic condition in need of management and care.  It might go into “remission” for a while, then flare-up. Occasionally, I will an experience acute episode and really have to take therapeutic measures.  I now consider myself “in recovery”, a state that requires vigilance, self-care, and self-awareness.

Buy I can’t do it alone.

That is why I was so excited to discover a terrific book called, The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig.  Hillary shows how perfectionism is more than a “destructive habit or way of thinking”.  Her book demonstrates perfectionism’s toxic effects on your view of “yourself, your work, and the world.”

As soon as the author began describing the characteristics and behaviors of perfectionists, my eyes popped.  Hey, this woman really knows me!   I downloaded the 182 -page book in the summer and still haven’t finished it (and that is okay!).  Rettig’s book is not meant to be read in one sitting.  It is a step-by-step guide and you don’t go to the next step until you have made progress. There are clear steps to take, exercises to do, behaviors to practice, and practical changes to make. I was going to wait until I finished to blog about this wonderful book, but every page of her book just keeps getting better. So, I thought I’d share it with you today, and then write about my progress in future blogs.

By the way, this book is aimed at writers, but anyone who is trying to finish a major project or has difficulty with output due to procrastination will benefit.  And speaking of procrastination…did you know that Perfectionism is at its root?

I will leave you with one defining characteristic from Secrets of the Prolific:

“Perfectionists hold unrealistic definitions of success and punish themselves harshly for the inevitable failures.”

Yup, that’s me.

Are you a perfectionist?  What tactics have you taken to tame this unruly condition?  What guides or programs have you found helpful? 

Do You Write on Your Vacation?

I did sit on this very bench overlooking Onset Bay.

As we were packing for a family trip to Cape Cod, my husband asked me if I was taking my lap top.

“Are you kidding?” I replied.

“What I mean is, are you planning on working?” he said.

My answer, of course was, “Of course.”

By working, he meant writing. “Isn’t it a good idea to take time off for a vacation?” he asked. “Clear your mind for new ideas? Come back refreshed?”

What he meant was: How much time are you going to be off (alone) writing?

Anyone who is married to a writer will have this conversation.

In his memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says that when he is in the middle of a project he writes every day, including Christmas, Fourth of July, and his birthday. (I remember rereading that part a few times.) King advises aspiring writers not to take off more than a day when they are in the midst of crafting a story.  “You’ll lose the urgency and immediacy of your story if you do.”

I recently heard novelist Richard Ford, author of Canada, describe similar work habits.

But these guys are older, empty-nester, best-selling, full-time writers who probably don’t do the laundry.  Right?

Novelist and writing teacher, Aimee Bender, wrote about the importance of a regular writing routine in her essay,“A Contract of One’s Own” . Aimee’s writing self-contract has rules, consequences, and rewards. Aimee writes daily for two hours, in the same place, with no distractions or breaks, 5-6 days a week, rain or shine.  And she has been at it for 17 years. “Writing everyday can be a powerful action, a gesture of belief in one’s own imagination…”

While I’m a believer in taking time off for renewal (heck, why not for fun, too?), our family vacation to Cape Cod coincided with the time I devote to writing–the summer.  I enjoy having a break from teaching, scheduling, and chauferring my kids around.  I love taking my laptop outside on our sunny patio and being able to write for a few hours straight.

So as our family packed up the van, I felt like I had already been on vacation. Why should I  take a double vacation?  I worried that a week off from my writing would not only put me behind, but put me on the slippery slope to Procrastination Island.

Of course I didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else. And since I am fighting those workaholic tendencies, I compromised.  I told my husband that I’d write just an hour a day, maybe early in the morning before everyone gets up, or late in the evening. And then, I’d turn into a fun person.

Here’s what really happened. After a day at the beach, I crashed at 9:00 pm. Then  I overslept. Then my daughter visited for a couple days with her husband and baby and I wanted to spend every minute with them.  Then my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me to eat an early breakfast with her on the beach. (Lovely.) Then my husband suggested we have coffee at the cafe around the corner from our rented house.

I didn’t write a word the entire week.

But…I did let my characters visit and show me their wild side. As I walked along the shore, new writing ideas rolled in like gentle waves.  And yes, I did come back refreshed and renewed.

Do you take vacations from writing?  If so, when, and for how long?

Look–no laptop!

Summer Reading

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I live for summer.

As a sufferer of SAD,(seasonal affective disorder) the spring clock change kicks me into gear.  By June, I’m ready to fly. The summer break from my teaching job allows for more intense writing time.  These long stretches of time bring its own challenges and pressures.  Produce! Publish!

My self-imposed writing regimen also conflicts with another desire: to read a ton of books. In my world, one of the small pleasures in life  is coming home from the library on a Friday afternoon with a bag full of new books.  I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t read fiction while working on their novels.  This would be a hard practice for me to follow.  I find that reading certain authors inspire my own work.

When I was working on my YA novel, One Is Not A Lonely Number, I read  children’s novels with female narrators, like in my own story.  If I am working on a short story, I turn to my favorite writers for inspiration in language and voice. One of my favorite collections is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  The plotting, dialogue, insights, and language just blows me away.

When I get stuck, I reread my writing bibles: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont, On Writing by Stephen King, and Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. As for those beach books–they are my reward for putting in chair time, for typing those 1000 words.  So this summer I hope to read:  Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman, Delirium by Lauren Oliver, More Cake and Lots of Candles by Anna Quindlen, Canada by Richard Ford, and Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner.

What’s on your list?

How many books will you write this year?

Sunday afternoons I usually devote to writing projects.  This Mother’s Day, after a little prompting from my family, I took the entire day off.  And I enjoyed myself!  That is, until later that evening when a NY Times headline caught my eye: Writer’s Cramp: In-E-Reader Era, a Book a Year is Slacking.

Oh, my.

Those commercial fiction writers who previously managed to put out a book a year are now “pulling the literary equivalent of a double shift.”  These writers, whom we love and hate, are churning out extras–short stories, novellas, e-books– to satisfy their impatient readers whose attention spans have shortened, thanks to our revved up world.

Thriller writer Lisa Scottoline has revved up her daily quota to 2000 words.  That translates into a 12/7 workweek.  Best-selling literary novelists are, so far, off the hook. (Go ahead, take your ten years. We still love you!)  Since I don’t belong to either camp (not yet), I’m wondering what to make of this madness.  Between book marketing, building my platform, speaking engagements, circulating short stories, writing query letters, entering competitions, raising my kids, and the Other job, my next novel is still in note form.  Maybe I could offer this for 99 cents while my fans await the real thing.

Let’s suppose that you could (or do) write full-time?  How many books could you (would you) write in one year?