It’s summer! How are you writing into your dream?

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July 1st is here.

I always imagine that July 1st is the “real” start of summer.  To me, June is the prelude to summer, and August is the “meat” of summer.  But July – July is the moment to capture summer, to pursue your true summer dreams, to immerse yourself in the joys of summer, the lazy warm afternoons lying in sun-dappled grass, the brief plunges into the cool water of lakes or ponds, the weekend cook-outs with friends and family.

Now that July 1st is here, I’m thinking about my writing dream.  What would I like to do this summer that I have not yet done earlier in the year?  What do I want to focus on in particular? What would I like to have accomplished by the end of the summer?

Maybe it’s because in Seattle, our marine climate often gives us rainy June days (which I personally love, but other Seattleites grouse about), so that July and August (and now, increasingly, September) tend to be our best months for sunny weather and for being outdoors.

Or perhaps this impulse arises from generations of farming cycles.  My family come through a line of Iowa farmers, and summer brings the harvest season.  My grandparents were born in the Midwest and their parents were Midwestern farmers.

Or, this may be a feeling that comes out of the cycle of the school year that runs from September to June.  Who couldn’t wait for that last day of school, when you finish a whole year’s study and take a well-deserved break before starting the next year?  July is the first entire month of summer vacation, when one can completely let go of study habits and writing papers and preparing for exams, and instead wander in parks, sleep in late, and stay up to watch the stars come out.

Here are a few of the things I would like to do over the summer!

  • Submit my work to new markets.  This month’s Poets & Writers Magazine has a great article on why submitting your work helps you become a better writer.  It’s always a “nail-biter” for me to send out work, which is (frequently) rejected.  But I’m starting to learn more about the markets for my work AND about the strengths of my own writing.
  • Complete my chapbook projects.  I’m working on three potential small books – The Little Book of Lies, The Little Book of Monsters, and The Little Book of Fables.  The first book (“Lies”) is done as of last week – yay!  Now to bring the other two to completion.
  • Turn back to my MFA novel, Daylight Saving Time, and continue to re-imagine it with new material and newly honed writing skills.
  • (possibly) Lead a second #productivewriter 6-week experiment before the end of the summer.  We’ll see!
  • Do lots of experimental writing!

Share your thoughts!

What do you have in mind for your summer?  If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, this may be different for you, but whether it be writing, photography, or other arts – what would you like to focus on for the next two months?  Do you have some works-in-progress that you’d like to give attention to?  Or are you inclined to set aside formal goals and spend your time holistically following your muse wherever it leads?  Either way, I’m 100% in support of your creative and expressive effort.  Feel free to share your thoughts in comments – I am grateful for every one.

 

Photo by Theresa Barker.

#productivewriter 1 | #productivewriter 2 | #productivewriter 3 | #productivewriter 4 | #productivewriter5 | #productivewriter6 | #productivewriter-wrapup

 

#productivewriter wrap-up – writing into the dream

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Writing into the Dream – a six-week experiment in becoming a more productive writer

Previous weeks:

Week 1:  Write every day. Write something. Every day.

Week 2:  Encourage your writing self.

Week 3: Schedule your writing.

Week 4:  Write a letter to your writing.

Week 5:  Write early in the day.

Week 6:  Write like a child plays.

#

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What I learned this week

I’m a great goal-setter.  I’m a list-maker.  My analytical brain likes to break a larger goal into smaller tasks, and then tackling each task until I’ve got the whole thing done.

It is harder for me is to play.  It feels uncomfortable to consider writing that “doesn’t go anywhere.”  Is it part of my novel?  Is it a new short story?  Is it something I can put on my blog?  Maybe … and maybe not.

But, some of my most inventive – and satisfying – work has come either during, or immediately after, doing a writing exercise.  So, I sigh, sit down at my desk – or take myself out somewhere – and write about the trivial, the poetic, the odd or unusual. I start with a line of poetry, I try to imitate a poet, I put myself in a writer’s mind and write a sliver about their life.  I take random words and make them into a story.  I sketch and then write about what I sketched.

The big thing I’m proud of this week was setting aside about 20-30 minutes (of my ninety-minute writing time) for experimental writing.  I sometimes think of Google “20% Rule,” a concept where team members are encourage to spend one-fifth of their time, or one day a week, working on something not related to an existing project assignment (Gmail was reported to have come out of “20%” time).  David Kelley, an award-winning designer and founder of Stanford’s d.school, says you need to get out of your own field of practice for instance, go to a junk yard or a flea market – to come up with really good design ideas.  I think that giving myself time to experiment with something new has been a good move.  I’m excited.

Am I a more productive writer now?

Yes.  Absolutely!  In this six-week experiment I have started writing more consistently, for longer periods, than when I started.  Yay!

How?

  • Most days I write for about ninety minutes now, sometimes longer, Monday through Friday – a bit shorter times on the weekends, when I spend time with family.  I try to write in the morning, before noon.  That way, I usually avoid getting bogged down in email or other quotidian tasks.
  • Most days I spent about 20-30 minutes on “creative play” writing – sketch-and-write, write from a line of poetry, from an illustration, etc.  Or, I write something for the blog.
  • If something wonderful happens, if I write something brilliant – I take a moment and compliment my creative-writer self.  Good job!  That was great!  You ARE an imaginer and a writer!  If I’m disappointed in the writing, I try not to blame myself.  Oh, well, that didn’t work out, at least I tried it.

(To demonstrate how this experiment has helped me achieve my writing goals, I’ll probably publish a short blog post in the next few days describing my current projects.)

Closing thoughts

Thank you for sharing this experiment with me!  I have learned so much from readers’ comments and readers’ suggestions.

As a send-off, I want to share writer Neil Gaiman’s terrific speech, “Make Good Art.”  Maybe you’ve seen it – it’s only about 4 minutes long on YouTube – take a look!  (Go ahead, I’ll wait! . . . oh, you’re back?  Great.)  You’ll be inspired, I guarantee it!  Here is one thing from Neil’s speech that I truly believe:

If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.  And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. . .

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique.  You have the ability to make art.  And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that’s been a lifesaver.  The ultimate lifesaver.  It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones. . . .

Make good art.  I’m serious. (Neil Gaiman’s ‘Make Good Art’ speech.)

Share your thoughts!

How has your writing changed?  What are you doing differently now, if anything?

I may come back to this #productivewriter experiment in a few weeks, because I have even more strategies to try out.  For now, as always, I wish you the gift of finding your own voice, and of enjoying your own creative expression.  Thank you, to everyone who has commented during this project.  I have enjoyed being on this journey with you!

Photo by Theresa Barker.

#productivewriter 1 | #productivewriter 2 | #productivewriter 3 | #productivewriter 4 | #productivewriter5 | #productivewriter6

 

#productivewriter 6 – write like a child plays

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Writing into the Dream – a six-week experiment in becoming a more productive writer

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Previous weeks:

Week 1:  Write every day. Write something. Every day.

Week 2:  Encourage your writing self.

Week 3: Schedule your writing.

Week 4:  Write a letter to your writing.

Week 5:  Write early in the day.

#

Writing into the dream.  What is your dream? Do you imagine writing a novel?  Writing a book of poems?  A musical?  Perhaps you draw or take photographs.  What would your work look like if it was your dream work?

I recently had a chance to hear a design expert speak, someone who is well-established in the world of design and of “branding.”  These days everyone is talking about “creating your own brand” (in writing they call it “having a platform”).  This is where you develop a following on your blog, on social media, though a subscription newsletter, etc.  The idea is that you make a name for yourself so that others will follow and support your work (perhaps monentarily).

Here is what the design expert said about branding:  “Build a body of work – not a brand.”  She said: it takes a body of work to define who you are as an artist or designer.  Write, write, write (or draw! or take photos!) – and after a number of years, you will have developed a body of work that expresses your voice – not a generic “brand,” but who you are and why your work is distinctive and enjoyable for others to see/read/look at.

What is your dream?  Now that we have been writing every day, encouraging our writing, scheduling writing time and perhaps writing earlier in the day, and we have listened to our writing and what it wants to be – let’s go bigger.  What is your DREAM for your writing (or drawing, or photographs) and what would it look like?  Let yourself go big.  This is your imagination at work!

What I learned this week

Well, I admit I was skeptical about last week’s strategy – write early in the day.  I know that morning is my time of highly productive energy.  So, when I want to tackle a new organizing project, or take care of a must-do task, it goes faster in the morning, rather than later in the day.

My concern was, if I dedicate morning time to writing, then I’ll lose the opportunity to take care of those “must-dos” – they’ll drag out – when I get to them later in the day.  But I found that I could set aside some time for writing first thing in the morning (usually about 90 minutes, sometimes longer) – and enjoy it! – and also have some leftover time for other tasks, if desired.

There is room for flexibility in this – you may not write well in the morning.  When I was writing my third novel (years ago), I wrote in the evening, after all the day’s tasks were done.  I felt much less pressure to “write well” at the end of the day, and I was more productive.  If I had morning time to spend on writing tasks, I would do research during that time instead.

How about you?  Did you try writing earlier in the day?  Did you discover anything new about yourself and your writing this week?  Perhaps you felt more productive … or perhaps you felt more pressured and less productive.  What worked for you?

Productive Writer Strategy No. 6 – Write like a child plays.

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Most creative people, and most people generally, remember their childhoods as a time when they threw themselves unself-consciously and wholeheartedly into all manner of creative efforts:  drawing, storytelling, modeling in clay, whatever came to hand.  Most important, they experienced no resistance to their play – only the intense, uncritical, unalloyed, and ineffable pleasure of the homo faber [the human being as creator]. (From On Writing, by Victoria Nelson)

This is the final strategy of our six-week experiment into being a more productive writer.  You’ve structured your time, dedicated yourself to your writing, but you’ve also been kind to yourself as a writer, and asked your writing what it wants to be.  This week, think back to when you were a child.  What did it feel like to play make-believe, to play cards or Monopoly, to build with construction toys or to make something out of clay?  Were you thinking about your “market” back then?  (Of course not!)  Did you worry about having an audience?  (Not at all!)

I would like to invite you to join me in creative play this week.  Every day when you write, try to remember the mood of play from when you were a child.  Try to do at least one thing in your writing that isn’t part of a project, that is not a chapter, a story for publication, or a poem that’s part of your new poetic series . . . instead, do an exercise, or free-write from a line of poetry or an illustration that captures your attention.  Or something else playful!  Pay attention to things around you that make you excited about your creativity.  Try using those in your daily writing.

Next week’s #productivewriter blog post

We will wrap things up in this experiment next week.  Think about your dream, and I’ll think about mine, in the coming week.  Let’s compare notes!

Share your thoughts!

We are in this together!  Feel free to add a reply-comment about how your week went – what you learned, how you felt.  Are you feeling more productive?  Do you feel any closer to reaching your dream?  What has changed from when we started in Week 1? ‎

As always, I wish you the gift of finding your own voice, and of enjoying your own creative expression.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Photo by Theresa Barker.

#productivewriter 1 | #productivewriter 2 | #productivewriter 3 | #productivewriter 4 | #productivewriter5

#productivewriter 5 – write early in the day

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Writing into the Dream – a six-week experiment in becoming a more productive writer

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Recap:

Week 1:  Write every day. Write something. Every day.

Week 2:  Encourage your writing self.

Week 3: Schedule your writing.

Week 4:  Write a letter to your writing.

In this experiment so far, we have said we would do our best to write every day, for at least fifteen minutes; we would ask our writer-self what to write on; we would schedule a block of writing time; and we would write a letter to our writing (or your drawing, photography, etc.).

Let’s compare notes!

What I learned this week

When I was in graduate school for creative writing, one of our professors assigned this exercise – Write a letter to your own writing.  Some of us thought it was awkward, to say the least. – What?  – a letter to my own writing?  Nah, I’m in graduate school to write new poetry!  – or plays! – or memoir! – or fiction! Why would I write to my own writing?

But we were introduced to the notion that our writing has something it wants to be.  Rather than always imposing a plot or an external structure on our poem-play-memoir-fiction, we were asked to try finding out from our work what it wanted to be.  It sounds a little strange, especially if you read “how to” books for writing novels or screenplays, which exhort you to use the “narrative arc” or the “3-act structure” for your work.

Even though I had written letters to my writing before this, this week I did something a little different.  Following a reader’s lead, I tried writing a letter to one specific piece of writing.  I had a couple of stories that were not working.  So I thought, why not?

On Monday last week I wrote a letter to one of my stories:  What do you want to be?  The story responded with an unusual and captivating voice, which was great, for me – it helped me learn what direction to try to take in the story.  Here is what I wrote:

[Me]  What do you want to be?

[Story] The thing I want to be is the smart, funny, deeply rich, imaginative story.  I like having the little collage pieces [at the beginning] because they add such interest.  People wonder, huh, what’s that about?  It’s like coming up to a dessert tray that has lots of tiny little sweets, of different sorts, and being jazzled by each one.

[Me] Jazzled?  That’s a great word.

Yes, I hesitated before I wrote it.  But it’s fine to be strange.

[Me] And how do you think Charlotte [the main character] fits into all this?

Charlotte is the catalyst, the translator, the transformer.  She is the one around which everything sizzles.  Like electricity that sparks.  She can be there and not there at the same time.

[Me] Huh.  I think we haven’t gone big enough before. . . . (and so on)

How about you?  Did you discover anything new about your writing, or about a specific piece of writing, when you wrote it a letter?  Or perhaps, by writing to your writing, you were able to affirm its value and the creativity that you are expressing through your writing.  Did you feel any differently after writing the letter?

Productive Writer Strategy No. 5 – Write early in the day.

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Write early in the day. I’m going to offer this strategy with a caveat:  we all have our own moments of the day when we are more productive than at other times.  Some of us are night owls, where others are early birds.  Do you leap out of bed and plunge into your tasks for the day?  Or do you like to stay up late, after dark, and get your work done while most of us are sleeping?

It’s good to write during your “best” times of the day, if you can, whether that’s early in the morning or late in the day.  You’ll just get more done for the time that you put in.  However . . .

. . . consider writing early in the day.  Just for this week, try to make time early in the day to sit down at your computer, or with a pen/pencil and notepad, and write. (Even if only for your fifteen minutes!)  One advantage of writing early in the day is that it is often a time in which your mind is clear, not yet muddled by the myriad tasks you have to take care of (email, appointments, etc.).  A second advantage is that by writing early in the day, you will always have time to write again later, where that is less true if you wait until late in the day.

This week, try writing every day, try to schedule at least one “block” of writing time during the week, and experiment with interacting with your writing or your writer-self in a non-judgmental, accepting way.  Don’t guilt yourself if you can’t write as much as you’d like to, don’t feel ashamed if the writing does not seem to form itself the way you had expected.  Just … write.

And, try writing early in the day.  You may be surprised!

Share your thoughts!

We are in this together!  Feel free to add a reply-comment about how your week went – what you learned, how you felt.  Have you been able to interact with your writing?  Have you found yourself writing more often or for longer periods?  Are you feeling good about your writing, or are you feeling not-so-good, and why?

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As always, I wish you the gift of finding your own voice, and of enjoying your own creative expression.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Photo by Theresa Barker.

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Will you marry me? – 30 years before … #tbt

https://www.flickr.com/photos/fmckinlay/9064097141/in/photolist-eNXShV-fmmvYs-ds5ayo-Ti97Ae-UNB9nK-dSpaSA-agh3hg-3arxqF-4GTbSh-4ZTJcX-55atXW-4cVnqG-2y2C64-cDxv4u-TPWf8g-4BxjgX-dCpe5u-q6n9-9gY1bt-cgSEud-cCEAcG-cjn6Eo-cCEAn9-dQduHR-cKhNQ9-gkvZBg-dkb4X-9man97-TP1HrY-ak9EYh-8Z6UQE-akR3La-54mWbL-54mMNf-nTeSL-4mAKsU-58zpnu-9X1hiA-iyr3j-8ZLdXh-UEaskz-7KgzKb-tdcZp-RUyS1X-39vxP1-T9xeGX-6eTdk5-758aPN-T5VRvb-uo6Lf

Thirty years ago my husband asked me to marry him.  Where?  At the airport!  He met me at the airport after a family trip, and he suggested we have dinner in what was then a steakhouse overlooking the tarmac.  At the end of dinner, just before dessert, he surprised me with a small velvet box – containing a ring – and he asked me to marry him.

Here (below) is a photo from last month, commemorating our engagement, when we were traveling on vacation.  The steakhouse restaurant has been replaced by an enormous food area, including Anthony’s (gourmet fish house).  Here we are!  Same place, same couple.  Together still!

Of course, I said “Yes.”

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Are you still doing our #productivewriter project? Kudos!  I took a reader suggestion this week to write a letter to a specific story rather than a letter to my writing in general.  And voilà!  – That helped me to find out a way to progress the story when I was stuck.

Happy writing!