Thursday, March 31, 2011

Step Four: Rewarding Yourself (or how it works for me)

This is the forth post in a series leading up to TPR's one year anniversary on April 12th. It is time for us examine our habits and recommit to the practice room premise (it was also time for me to spell it out)! Find the other steps here, here, and here.

Make writing itself the reward.

I did Julia Cameron's book The Artist Way five years ago. Back when I just returned to writing after having my second child. I had got through grad school with one baby on my hip, but it was painful. I planned on giving up the writing when the second came around. Just for a little while. And then graduated very pregnant, gave birth a month later and did not pick up a pen again until the new one was three. Very thought through. It seemed like a good age. And when my planned return to writing came around, I did manage to find a little bit of time to sit down and do it. But the writing did not come as planned. I discovered it is not like riding your bike. There is too much baggage. I would pick up my pen and get tired. Excruciatingly so. Everything in my being screaming at me to stop. I took a lot of naps.

In the meantime I had discovered mindfulness. My new baby daughter required it of me. She was an explosive, sensitive infant and didn't comfort as my son had. For both our sakes I needed to learn how to breathe. And I did. I meditated her to sleep at night. I did yoga for me. I learned to breathe for her when she couldn't.

She is a changed kid. I can not take credit for it. But, thanks to mindfulness, I did no harm.

Writing was another sensitive and reactive baby. I needed to find mindfulness to cut it off at the pass before I made it to some kind of monster. Enter The Artists Way. You can say a lot of things about that book and I won't, but her morning pages are brilliant. Her program requires three handwritten pages a day. There is no goal to this writing. No good or bad day. No need to read them. No need to believe what they tell you. Just do it. The writing doesn't matter as much as the practice itself does. Writers write. I write. I wrote every crappy thought that crossed my mind. I didn't like them or hate them I just put them behind me. The words began to be something I craved instead of something that put me to sleep. It became another form of meditation. And in itself a comfort. I still write my morning pages everyday. But the pages have changed. I can not take credit for it.

There are a lot of critiques of writing as therapy. I don't totally get them. Where are the critiques of biking as therapy or yoga or breathing, because as far as I can tell all things that get you to the place where you no longer matter are therapy. The things that bring us to that flow state are therapy. That is where we find connection to something greater then ourselves.

I am writing this blog post as I write my pages. I do them on the computer now. At 750 Words. That address in the ether feels unhindered by expectations. I can explore my thoughts on my new manuscript, write a draft for a blog post, write copy of class descriptions and circle round my fears and insecurities, circumventing them until I am writing more and more and more.  I copy and past what I want to save, I leave behind those things I don't. I am not a good writer, nor am I a bad writer. I write.

How do you reward yourself?

Next Thursday: Habits are behavioral.

Friday, March 25, 2011

News, News!

First of all, I have a new class slotted to start on Wednesday. We tweaked some things based on feedback and there is a new description and times for the next class. So if any of you folk are nearby enough to come write with me, I would love it. Email me!

Writing Bootcamp

Jumpstart your writing metabolism! Join our three week workshop aimed to get you physically writing. Find yourself motivated and energized as Rachel and Tina lead you through structured exercises and give you the tools to establish your own writing routine. Open to all experience levels (modifications will be offered). Bring your favorite writing utensil and a cheap notebook. Please email Tina at with questions, to save a spot in class, and for more information. Class capped at 6.

Dates: 3 Wednesdays: March 30th, April 6th, and 13th, 2011.
Time: 7 pm - 8:30, followed by an optional 30 minute writing session
Cost: $25 for 3 sessions, payment due at first class.
Location: Linden Hills neighborhood

Come strengthen your writing core - because you get better at what you practice!

Also, Anita, middle grate writer and book reviewer extraordinaire,  has a new blog dedicated to middle grade titles. Anita is by far one of my favorite bloggers. She has so much to say and yet she keeps it succinct. One of the finest traits in blogging. And she is always asking your opinion! Her perspective is unique, refreshing and upbeat. All the things that will make her your go to source for all things middle grade! Find her new blog here, friend her up, leave a comment, you will feel brilliant when she responds! Her blog is alive with interaction!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Third Step: Understand the Agreement (just for an hour)

This is the third part in a series leading up to The Practice Room's one year anniversary on April 12th. The first step is about the power in attention. Step two is about values, the engine that keeps us working. This post is about the agreement.

What does it mean to sign in to TPR?

For each person it's a different thing. For the stay at home mom, she puts off that huge to do list (and the small child) and focuses on her writing life for one TPR hour. For the blogger, twitterer, and chatter, it may mean that she turns off all media and just gets down to the uninterrupted act of writing. For the teacher that comes home to a busy family, it may be her one hour of the week that she lets herself jump in and fully engage with her project.

For all of us, it is an hour that we put people off, it is the appointment we have with writing, it provides the structure for something that otherwise feels too hard to do. It's the same amount of time as a TV show, less than the time it takes to watch a movie. The agreement is to write, not do the other things. Again, what that looks like to each person may be different. Whatever the actual writing task, it is our hour to hone that attention from step one, and live that value from step two.

But remember, we are like puppies, getting distracted by the world over and over again. And during the hour we train ourselves. Bringing our puppy selves back again and again. Kindly. And with plenty of treats.

Next Thursday: step four, rewarding ourselves.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Identify your writing values - part 2

Here is my example - I make almost all the food we eat at my house from scratch and from organic ingredient. It is a health choice for me. I do believe it is healthier for me and my kids. They have those obesity studies. There have even been nutritional differences found between organic and non, stemming from overproducing soils etc. But my value of it goes even further. It is political. I think that animals and vegetables that are raised by ethical practises, practises that are humane to the animals and earth that we live on. ecologically responsible as long as I have the money to do it educates my consumption. I can chose that item that is more expensive because it is based on deep held values that I have.

So likewise with writing, what are your deep held values that will help you chose to do what is difficult, write over watching TV or sending that next email or keeping the kids happy or just not starting because the whole of it is too hard to consider ever getting done? I would like to know. Why do you write everyday even though everything says you should stop now (the lack of money, the lack of appreciation, the chances that someone who can do something with it are slim)?

Well I love it - that's why I do. I love the unraveling and the re-raveling. I love the puzzling it requires and the close attention to feelings and the close attention to every other detail there is. I love how I feel when I read those things that have been raveled and re-raveled by other authors especially the ones that I can tell have been labored over and cared about down to every minute detail themselves. I love what I reveal to myself after I puzzle on the page for awhile.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

(Re) Kindle your TPR Fire: Step Two, Identify Your Writing Values

This is my second post in a series leading up to TPR's first birthday on April 12th. I posted the first step last week, Examine Your Writing Habits.

There is a lot of suffering in the world right now. It causes me to question my relative ease in it. As Japan shows us that no one is insulated, that hardship can and will affect us all, and the fact that I live in an industrialized country, may pose additional threat, my place in the world seems precarious. As I struggle with the feelings surrounding this doubt, it is the perfect timing for this post. To examine why I am doing what I do?

So what makes me tick? Why do I continue to tick even when the going gets rough?  I am not talking rough like for those in Japan. I am talking the doubts and depression that goes with life in general. Generally, the going for writers is tougher than most. Look at the fate of some of the most admired writers - David Foster Wallace, Hemingway, Plath, Virginia Wolf, Shakespeare (haha, that's a joke. I think he died a happy old man dressed as a woman.) Those are just from the top of my head, which is on plenty of other things at the moment. Anyway our road has plenty of land minds, most of which are planted in our brains. If we are going to keep ourselves walking it, why? In the light of recent disasters, war, governmental chaos, demonstrations and sufferings, the likes of which will continued to happen over and over again, why do we write?

It is important to note that a value is not a goal. To get published, to finish this draft, to become wealthy and famous, to be respected, those are all goals. They will be finished when you reach them. A value is something that you will continue to strive for even after you reach the above goals. If it is important to you to be a good person, you don't just become one and stop trying, right?

I want to know what you really value. Why are you writing that book that you are working on? Why put yourself through this pain and suffering and demoralization? This cannot be as simple as making money, being famous, having a best seller, seeing your name in print. That is all a long shot and we all know it. This has to be something that feeds your soul. Some reason that would keep you at it day after day.

Here is why I keep doing it: I really believe that the more I do it the better at it I will get, especially if I try to learn from every step. I am fulfilled by it both as a mindful act, but also now that I have reached some level of mastery, I take pleasure in the product. The work thrills me. Even when it doesn't and I do not know what else to do for myself. I find sustenance for my children. I wash the bathroom floor yet another time. I still believe I have something to say, that this truth is worth documenting. It could change everything for someone, at least for a few hours of their life.

Why you do it?

Next Thursday: Step 3,  Understand the Agreement.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

(Re) Kindle Your TPR Fire: Step One, Examine Your Writing Habits.

This is the first post in a series leading up to TPR's anniversary on April 12th.

A few years ago I went to a conference on parenting. The trainer used a study as an example of what not to do. It was a study meant to prove Primal Therapy. The idea was that "catharsis" releases anger and makes everything all better. The children in the study were to make use of punching bags and foam bats in managing their emotions. The thought was, when they were all done beating the heck out of things they would be more manageable. Instead the study found they were just more likely to beat on things. It turns out, this trainer told us, that you get better at what you practice. The story and the phrase has stuck with me (hence the doorway to The Practice Room).

Then there is the 10000 hour rule. It takes 10000 hours of practice in order to become a master, according to a study by Anders Ericsson in the early 1990s. He correlated achievement into hours of practice and found that the very best practitioners of ______ (fill in the blank with the expertise of your choice) had put in about 10000 hours of practice, the good 8000 and the average 4000 hours. Read more about it here.

So add those two things together and it indicates you should use your time wisely. Energy flows where attention goes.

This week examine your current writing habits whether you are active in TPR or not. Are your practices getting you where you want to be? No reason to get worked up about it, just notice. Ask yourself these questions: What makes you start writing? Why do you stop? What are your distractions? What are your procrastinations? Just describe. This is the first step in choosing where your energy will flow.

The practice room has been my chance to "hone my attention" (Thanks for the phrase, Dianne Salerni!).   I do my best to let everything else slide during our unplugging hours and have found that because of the intentionality of the time, there is an intensity and productivity to the focus. Try it for yourself. Everyone is welcome!

 Next Thursday: Step Two, Find Your Writing Values.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Still More Class. (and tpr anniversary coming up)

The final class came and went last Wednesday. People brought in their "assignments" to take one written exercise further at home. They each approached this differently but  all were energized by the prospect of something they did in class informing something outside of class. One person had never approached her words from the other side of her brain before and was struck at how different this felt, while other students were old hat at that kind of thing. A long discussion ensued on revision vs. drafting, voice and persona, creative nonfiction, etc. etc. That is the beauty of these writing classes, folks get comfortable with one another and you can't get them to shut up long enough to get those writing minutes.

My one regret, we talked more than we wrote this last class. But otherwise the whole series was a resounding success.

What can I do better next time? There are ways that I can tweak the description to better represent the class(expect to hear about this soonish). I can shorten the class by 30 minutes, not because we didn't use that time or enjoy it, but because 2 hours is daunting to commit after a working day. I can lower my overhead (even more because my spectacular park building doesn't require a lot) so that the class can remain small because its intimate size serves and still compensate me a bit for the time. And I love the idea of running these classes in series of 3s, pushing a little harder with homework and other expectations - but not too much. Maybe even an optional final writing exercise at the hour and a half mark so people have the option to get the two hours in, which is really what the class should be.

AND on a separate note The Practice Room will be a year old in April! Marisa, Heather and I convened for the first hour of official practice room unplugging (there had only been practice practice room unplugging before that). It has been a fantastic year of which I wish I had kept better records. In the next few posts I will attempt to both honor the work we have done and see if we can re-commit to unplugging practice for a productive second year. As always to come join - EVERYONE IS WELCOME - head through the door on the right. Next schedule posts Sunday, March 6.