5 Ways to Get Words on the Page

a keyboard with the word "create" on one of the keysSometimes putting words on the page feels impossible. Like “I’m going to make out with Chris Pine” impossible. No idea why a kick in the ass is necessary, but the sad truth is, for some reason I need to get psyched up to do something I love doing. Despite this mysterious quirk, I try to employ a few techniques to get my fingers rolling:

  1. Outline, outline, outline. One of the most difficult things to overcome is the feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no dice. So I write a basic outline. Then I flesh it out a bit. Then I write a treatment (similar to a movie treatment) where I write it as a sort of story: Mike goes to the dentist and finds out he needs a root canal, but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. He argues with the dentist and they fight until the dentist knocks his tooth out anyway…. You get the idea. Then I know what I’m going to be writing, and the story is just needing the magic of the right words. I won’t be facing the page wondering what to write about, since I already have that figured out.
  1. Only write things that I am passionate about. If I don’t find myself working story problems out while driving to work in the morning, or staying up late thinking of the story line, this probably isn’t the project for me. I have to eat, sleep and breathe it. Writing is fucking hard. Writing a story that I only kinda sorta think is fun is not going to make it easier. And that obsession is what gets me to the computer every time.
  1. Don’t make a big deal out of it. My writing that is. They’re just words, after all. I love to pretend I’m being profound, but yes, even my words are just words. The world isn’t going to change, whether everyone or no one reads my work. So I grow a pair and go ahead and have the courage to write something, even if it doesn’t live up to my standards in the end. It’s not time wasted, it’s experience earned.
  1. Start small. It’s great to have goals like “I will write a novel.” Great. Wonderful. But then I sit down at my laptop and think “Fuck, a novel? That’s like, 100,000 words!” So I just start with something like, I’m going to write 500 words. Or I’m going to finish this chapter. There was a time when things got really tough for me. I was about two-thirds of the way through my first novel, and it just felt like it was impossible. Like, “I’m gonna hook up with Live Schreiber” impossible. I was never going to finish, it was too hard, I was a failure. Sure, I wallowed in bourbon and self-pity for a while, and then I got over it. I made my goals smaller. Write one paragraph. Still too difficult. Write one sentence. Most days that worked, but some days, I had to tell myself to just write one word. I can write one word. One. Shitty. Word. And I did. But the truth is, it was just getting to the computer with the attitude of “I can”. I never ended up writing just one word. Because one word leads to another and another, and that one word led me to write closer to 1000, and I eventually finished the book. One word at a time.
  1. I got a productivity app to help. I have tried a few, and the one I really have found success with is Productivity Challenge. You put your projects in, then start working. It times your work sessions, and it also tracks your work sessions so you can see what your work habits are on a larger scale. I tend to work more on the weekends, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But what is surprising is how much the time adds up, even during the week when I may only get one session in per day (if I’m lucky). It’s also got some obnoxious bells to remind me to work, but I need that. Lastly, it ranks me (not against others, but against myself). Right now I’m a “Persistent Slacker”, but hopefully with some more work sessions under my belt, I’ll move up. I’m motivated by spite, and when someone calls me a slacker, it lights a fire. Feedback loops don’t work for everyone, but they work for me.

One day, maybe I’ll find that magic bullet that will make words just appear on the page without having to put forth an effort, but until then, I’ll use these regular bullets instead.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3026190/

No More Partridges in Pear Trees . . . Priming our Writing Pump During the Holidays

A woman in a Santa hat and beard holding breakfastAs our family stood huddled in sweat pants before a karaoke program as it played synthesized Christmas songs over our home computer, it occurred to me that this was not the family Christmas caroling scene it once might have been.  Before my thoughts launched into despair over the commercialism, glitz and high technology of Christmas in the new millennium, I took heart instead with another thought.

I was thinking of a tradition we started the year we were married. It involves the twelve days before Christmas and a grown-up version of an advent calendar.  Each day, starting on December 12th, my husband and I alternate opening windows labelled one through twelve to discover a secret message bestowing a special gift.  We flip a coin to see who starts first. At the end of the year, we rearrange the order and occasionally replace an idea to keep the surprises fresh and appropriate. It’s true, we get no milking maids, no turtle doves and no partridge in a pear tree, but we think we have improved upon the theme of yore. You be the judge.

Borrowing the tune from The Twelve Days of Christmas, I have summarized our yearly tradition below. Keeping our fast-paced culture in mind, I’ve cut straight to the Twelfth Day. I think you’ll get the picture:

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true love gave to me:

An early Christmas present

A half hour of pleasure

Two tickets to the movies

A lunch out for sushi

A night out dancing

A bouquet of flowers

Three hours of babysitting

SLAVE     FOR    A     DAY

Champagne and chocolate

Head to toe massage

Gourmet dinner

And breakfast and coffee in bed

 

We have not lost the meaning of Christmas. We have only packaged it differently to suit the times.

And best of all, fellow writers, the process of observing a disturbing trend ended up stimulating a new and endearing holiday writing tradition.  Now, each year when we give gifts, we get to re-write a Christmas song with new words and give that along with the present. It adds great fun to gift giving and keeps my pen moving, even during the busy holiday season.

 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Quiz: Should You Call Yourself a Writer?

A green sign that says Quiz TimeIt’s Time to Label It.

You heard me—today’s the day you call yourself a writer.

What’s that—you already do? Are you sure? Good thing I made you a quiz to find out if you really should call yourself a writer!

  1. You write:
    a) daily
    b) weekly
    c) monthly
    d) yearly
  2. You share your writing with:
    a) your family
    b) your friends
    c) your critique group
    d) no one
  3. You consider writing a:
    a) hobby
    b) passion
    c) chore
    d) all of the above
  4. You enjoy writing:
    a) true
    b) false
    c) all of the above
  5. When you’re at parties and people ask you what you do, you say, “I’m a writer”:
    a) first
    b) last
    c) not at all

Okay, save your answers because now I’m going to tell you a story.

When I was a little girl, I loved arts and crafts: play-doh and coloring books, beads and lanyards. I took art classes all through school. Spent my weekends learning to draw. I went to college for film and animation. And I landed my first job as a puppet fabricator for stop-motion animation. But still, I didn’t consider myself an artist.

Sure, I made art all day. I painted and sculpted, molded and casted, sewed and glued. But I wasn’t an artist! It wasn’t my vision. It was a skillset I had built and implemented. So what if I was passionate about it? So what if I worked my butt off to get there? If I were a real artist, my work would be in a gallery. I would have art shows. I would go through blue phases and red phases. I wouldn’t just make things—right?

It was when I voiced that line of thinking to a friend, who looked at me with raised eyebrows and said, “Melissa, you are an artist,” that I finally realized I was selling myself short. I had the experience, the passion, and even the job to back it up, but still, I felt undeserving of the label.

Is this starting to sound familiar? Good, then you’re ready for the real quiz question:

When will you be good enough for the label?

a) right now
b) right now
c) right now
d) all of the above

If you haven’t guessed it already, no matter how you answered the quiz questions, you pass. You are allowed to call yourself a writer. No, not allowed—entitled. You deserve it. Whether you’re on your first draft or your final manuscript. Whether you have an agent or a published book. Whether you write in a notebook that remains locked away in a drawer for three hundred sixty-four days of the year or type away on your computer daily.

You. Are. A. Writer.

And you don’t need a quiz or a friend or a publisher to validate that. You just need to own it!

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

Photo Credit: pixabay.com/2453148/

Bring on the Taskmaster!

chains wrapped around a woman's anklesI admit it—I am a slave. Sure, I hide it, presenting myself as a fiercely independent woman in control. Often, I resist it, attempting to ignore my fevered fetishes. But in all honesty, there are significant aspects of my life to which I am unquestionably, albeit joyfully, fettered: my morning latté, my husband, and, most especially, my writing.

I‘ve discovered this: embracing my servitude, instead of ignoring it, brings me to a whole new level of happiness—a kind of oneness with and deep appreciation for my aforementioned masters.

Thus, at 6:30 a.m. when the alarm rings, I rarely crawl back under the covers, because the coffee is calling me and I must answer its call. Truth is, my servitude to my morning latté makes me a better person; it makes me willing to face the day. It encourages me to start slowly, to ignore my “to do” lists for a spell, to forego my anxiety, to resist listening to any negative and critical voices in my head—in other words, to “wake up” before I carpé diem.

As for marital bliss, I’m done. I’m done ignoring that when I let go of my fear of being dependent, my fear of appearing weak, my fear of being in servitude to another—and instead, openly bowed in humble devotion to my husband for some spell every day—our connection grew stronger, our loving more passionate, our experience of “oneness” more complete.

I am not alone in discovering this. It was Rumi who poetically captured one married couple’s bliss:

“Their secret was this: That once every day, for an hour, they treated each other as if they were gods and would, with all their heart, do anything, anything their beloved desired.”

Which brings me finally to writing—my most demanding of masters—and you.

Perhaps you, too, (like I used to be) are currently unwitting slaves to your writing. Maybe you hear the call; you feel the pull; you know the sense of completion that comes when you finally put pen to paper, when you sit down and write.

Perhaps then you also know the sick feeling when you fail to write—the loss of connection to a deep yearning within your soul. The failure to write might be spurred by an innocuous but compelling voice in your head saying you are too busy to write, or a judging voice saying that writing is just too hard, or a voice of anxiety projecting a low-level fear that your work won’t be good enough (these certainly all have shown up for me).

In truth, these excuses—these “voices”—are conditioned fearful responses to anything that might awaken something powerful within. I say that because I’ve seen behind the veil. I’ve seen writing for what it truly is in my life: My Guru. I now bow before it and use it to pay attention to life as it unfolds, to practice ruthless honesty, to be courageous before the pen, despite the voices. And to write no matter what.

But it didn’t come easily. I had to work at it. I pussyfooted my way along at first, dipping my toes into the writing waters. Dabbling. Sure, I read the value of adopting a predictable writing practice, but couldn’t quite manage to do it. I “tried” to establish a writing practice instead of committing to one. Frustrated, I carved out time for a writing retreat at some point, but the voices came along. That’s when I discovered the value of having someone else—a friend, a close relative, a writing coach—hold me accountable. Someone who would ask me, “How much writing did you do today?” Someone, who would respond to my squirming resistance that it “just wasn’t happening today,” with a firm, “So?”

In short, I discovered the value of having a Taskmaster.

And sure enough, my Taskmaster primed my writing pumps. My Taskmaster helped hone my servitude to the page. My Taskmaster focused my attention and helped me see that writing does not always flow.

Having just completed Open, master tennis player, André Agassi’s memoir, I appreciate that just as he had bad tennis days (years even) and still kept practicing tennis, so too must I continue to practice my writing. And, just as his fitness coach, Gil, helped him, my Taskmaster helps me. In remaining committed to my writing practice, I have forged a trustworthy connection with that deep yearning within my soul to write. I honor the unwritten contract.

These days, I make a reachable commitment and then bow humbly before my Guru and do its bidding. I write. (And if I don’t, my Taskmaster calls me to the table.)

So if you find yourself faltering, I say, “Bring on the Taskmaster!” It is time to get serious.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/chains-feet-sand-bondage-prison-19176/

Lady Muck

Lady in apron standing in the doorway of a stone houseI’m a self-doubter. One voice inside says, “I’m good enough,” but the ones I hear most are the critics, flying in from 1979, ‘82, 87’, 95’. All those careless comments, words nobody meant anything by…

“I was just kidding.”

“God, you’re so sensitive.”

“You think too much.”

Worse are the comments I didn’t visibly react to, that nobody knew how deeply they embedded. Hooks, tugging at my self-esteem, whispering, “You’re no good/You’re not very smart/How are you going to change anything?/Just accept the way things are/It’s your own fault anyway/If you weren’t so [insert: picky, sensitive, whiny, pathetic, female], everything would be fine.”

Gigantically unaware of how everything affected me.

Suck it up.

These hooks mostly came from listening in on too many adult conversations I wasn’t equipped to process–a weakness of mine from age two on.

Warning: the following comments on repeat are guaranteed to disturb any young girl prone to taking adult commentary as gospel:

“God, who does she think she is?”

“Nothing worse than a jumped-up bitch who knows too much…thinks she’s something special.”

“Doesn’t she think she’s Lady Muck.”

That was a popular one in small town New Zealand, said of anyone who occasionally wanted to rest/tool around, eat chocolate, or, God forbid, read–while everyone else was working their butts off. Money must be earned. “Doesn’t get handed to ya’ on a silver platter.” Introspection, navel-gazing was for losers–lazy, dole bludging no-hopers.

I was secretly a bit of a no-hoper. Life in my family was about action–a good day involved productive activities like getting the thistles ripped, clearing a paddock, cutting the lawn and planting a 2,000 tree orchard. “Plenty of time to rest when you’re dead.”

We spent an inordinate amount of time over cups of tea, standing around the tractor munching on homemade chocolate crunch, sponge cake or gooey caramel square. No matter how much heavy labor we were doing, everyone was overweight.

Then there was, “Needs cutting down to size, that one,” and those that struck at the heart of my deeply unaccepted tendencies, “I could do that! God, what a bunch of crap.” Referring to any piece of art that wasn’t a painted facsimile of a pretty landscape.

I grew up understanding anything I was helplessly drawn to was wrong, especially art. Also, books that ripped chests wide open for the rain to pour in, where people wielded emotions like rage, ecstasy, and sadness like swollen rivers, but in a complex language that didn’t immediately make sense. God forbid if nothing really happened in the story. Most things I loved were too artistic, or just weird.

My trick was to leave. At 12, I spent a month in Hawaii, and I wrote. At 16, I moved to Brazil for a year, and I wrote–a diary filled with lust, pining, and a shameless lack of brevity. A painful, emotionally-penned journey, detailing my relationship with the host family, boys, girls, sugar (I had an hour to hour survival stash of chocolate hidden in my undie drawer and by my bed), and a meticulous effort to fit in. Listing in detail all the Brazilian men I wanted, and the women I wanted to become. To invade. To take over. To body snatch.

For a while, I felt pretty morphed. Triumphant even. From a shy, fearful, hardworking academic girl, I returned from Brazil with hair down my back and arse hanging out of a g-string bikini. I felt beautiful, and, apart from becoming a famous painter and writer, I just wanted to get laid. So I did. Quite a bit. My favorite parts were always the build-up, the chase. I better not tell you about the beach, the moment the first tongue touched my labia, and I nearly died with the sweet pain of it. [Aaah, what the hell: It was a hot night in Ferrugem, and this Carioca boy was intense and brown and surfed so much I don’t know how he stayed awake to be lying in the sand with me when the moon was peaking. I primarily felt courageous to be with him.]

Over time, I left more places because I didn’t know how to stay. What I kept looking for wasn’t anywhere. Emptiness, a shell, a fake brittle world. I bolted New Zealand for England, England for Scotland, then Spain, Portugal, Sweden, London, and back to Brazil. Somewhere I lost my words. My connection with myself, with others.

As you can guess, I finally stopped, realized I could only find truth and love by getting okay with myself, with accepting how things are, as they are. Lady Muck? Turns out the giant, dumb, lazy blonde faker I had myself pegged for is also a reasonably sweet, intelligent, empathetic, loveable human.

And it’s all grist, right? For writing. The hurts, the awful memories. The ones that still make you cringe with what you said, what he did, what she asked, what makes you burn 25 years later. Write it down. Kind of fun, eh? I never imagined at 20, when I thought I wanted to write but was too afraid to apply for the creative writing program at Vic, that describing someone’s tongue on my labia would be part of a larger, far more cringe-worthy body of work. I never guessed I’d be excited at the thought of trying this spoken word thing now. Labia. Labia, my labia. It’s gonna be fun to say that one out loud.

 

Photo Credit: http://nos.twnsnd.co/image/136466723467

Freakin’ Courage

freakin-courage-image

Lately, I’ve been thinking about all the freakin’ courage it takes to be a creative person. And especially to be a creative person that puts yourself out there.

Every day, in fact, I walk writers through their fears. I hear sentiments like:

“Who am I to write a book?”

“Why would anyone want to read what I have to say?”

“What makes me think I can make money at this?”

“Am I good enough, talented enough, whatever enough, to do this?”

“Can I live my dreams?”

We writers face these battles daily.

We are faced with thoughts that threaten to take us down. And maybe they do take us down. Maybe for a week, a year, a few years. But in my experience, most of us get back up. Despite all the fear, the passion is greater. We just feel too alive while writing to stop.

And therein lies the secret to a writer’s courage: Your passion is greater than your fear.

Your passion will always win.

But if you ever forget, if you ever dive into your fear and it seems you might get lost there, know you have a community. Reach out to me. I am totally serious here. Write me an e-mail. And I will remind you.

Much love,

Marni

Photo Credit: View from top of roller coaster looking east. VPL 12276   06/14/32  Photographer/Studio: Leonard Frank Studio  www.vpl.ca/historicalphotos