parenting · writing

Seasons Of Writing

Life is seasonal, and my writing life is no different.

I’m really proud of myself because I’ve been posting on playful + peaceful consistently (twice weekly) ever since March 2018.  This is a big deal for me. I’m great at starting new projects, but it’s hard for me to do the ongoing maintenance that a side hustle requires – and I did it. I’m still doing it. That is awesome.

HOWEVER.

There are seasons of life that offer more time and space for writing, and there are seasons that offer less.  I was prepared as the fall approached that September and October would be busier – I was starting a new job, adjusting to a new schedule, and I figured that I wouldn’t have as much time to write as I had this summer.

And then, in early September – we grew from a family of three to a family of four. Our hearts exploded with joy. And my life got way busier.

This may seem backwards, but adding a child to our family doesn’t make me want to take a break from writing. It makes me want to write more. It makes me want to ensure that writing is an area that is and always will be a priority.  Having kids has inspired me to become intensely committed to my creative goals, because I want my children to look at me and see someone who went after her dreams with all her heart.

That being said, finding the time to write is challenging at the moment, for the simple reason that I am tired. So tired. Our little one is four weeks old and eats every three hours, and that means no one is getting a full night’s sleep ever.

I’ve been daydreaming about what writing project to tackle next, and I’m starting to adjust to only having five hours of sleep each night. I’ve been keeping up with blog posts, and I’m contemplating the next fiction project I want to tackle. This is all okay – this is a season of my writing life. I am enjoying this moment, when the wheels of my mind are spinning, churning. And I’m excited for the next moment, when I’ll dive into something new.

goals · writing

No Matter What

Never, not once in my entire life, have I been described as neat.

When I’m writing, I try to be aware of using words like always and never. Extreme words like that are rarely true. But the above statement is: I have never in my life been described as neat. My messiness is pervasive; it is associated with every aspect of my life.  My car is messy – my office is messy – my house is messy.

Now, as an adult, I feel more motivated to keep my spaces tidy than I did as a child. But being more motivated does not change my messiness; I’m still messy. I’m just more inclined to tidy up after the mess has been made, because I do find that (a la Gretchen Rubin) outer order promotes inner calm. In other words, I feel better – more creative, more productive, more mindful – when my space is orderly and pleasantly arranged.

That is not the case in my house right now. We are happily adjusting to life as a family of four, and that means there’s less time for dishes and sweeping and following my toddler around cleaning up toys as he does his absolute favorite thing with every container of toys. (“Dump!”) However, I’m not writing this post right now because I’m trying to develop strategies for keeping the house more neat.

I’m writing this post because I’m trying to focus on my writing even when my house is a disaster.  

For me, an easy way to procrastinate is to do something productive that is NOT THE THING I AM SUPPOSED TO BE DOING. Maybe I’m supposed to be paying bills, but I decide to do dishes instead. Maybe I’m supposed to be doing the laundry, but I decide to clean up Edgar’s toys (with his toddler version of help) first. It’s not that what I’m doing is bad – it’s just not what I intended to do with my time, and one of my life goals is to be more intentional with how I live my life and how I spend my time.

The goal is to write – because it’s the thing in my life that I most want to cultivate, other than being a parent, a wife, and an all-around good human being in the world. I don’t have any goals about getting better at doing the dishes or tidying. My personal and professional goals are about writing – doing it more, and getting better at it, even when the house is a disaster.

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goals · writing

Finished

One of my Summer Sabbatical goals was to finish the freelance writing course I was taking with Chaunie Brusie, and I did!

The course was great. Unfortunately, I realized that the kind of writing I want to do isn’t the same as the freelance writing Brusie does, so some of the lessons weren’t as relevant as I’d hoped – but I learned a lot, and I found resources I can tap into throughout my writing life.

It’s gotten me thinking about other ways I can educate myself about the writing world, and about the craft of fiction writing. I wrote a post on the #AmWriting podcast’s Facebook group asking for recommendations for online fiction writing courses, and I got several suggestions. (That group is AWESOME; if you’re a writer, you should get in there!  So supportive and knowledgeable.)

Life’s been a little crazy for the past week or so, and my fiction writing has taken a backseat to journalling and blogging. That’s okay; my writing life is seasonal, and this is a season that is slower, less fruitful. But – I’m still here, showing up to my computer, typing as much as I can as often as I can.

And – I finished my course!  Goal ACCOMPLISHED.

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books + reading · writing

Incredible Plot Twists

I’m so grateful to have time to write, but I’m now learning what it means to be stuck on a plot point. I love the characters I’ve created, but I’m interested in developing more unique story lines and plots for my short stories and for my novels.

This got me thinking about novels I’ve read, particularly about books that either had an ingenious plot (Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is one example) or books that had an incredible plot twist (a la Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn). I started looking through my Goodreads “Read” list, trying to remember books with plots that really surprised or compelled me. I was able to remember a few, but not many. After I read a book, especially after some time has passed, I am rarely able to recall the plot in detail. I usually have a general feeling of “I loved that book!” or “That book was pretty good.” But, remembering specific plot points or twists? That is a challenge.

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I decided to do some crowdsourcing so that I could get a list of books to either read or study, examining the plot twists and turns of each book and trying to understand the different methods authors use to surprise their readers. This is especially important to me because I am interested in writing mysteries, where my goal is not only to entertain readers, but also to mislead them, to trick them, to do some literary magic that makes them say “Whaaaaaat?” out loud – which I do frequently when an author has genuinely surprised me.

I’m a member of a really fun Facebook group that talks about all things books, so I wrote a post asking for recommendations of books with interesting plots or crazy plot twists, and I got a fantastic list.

The biggest commonalty I noticed among all the books with intriguing plot twists or unique storylines was an unreliable narrator. Sometimes it was a character who had dementia or was hallucinating; sometimes it was someone uninformed; often it was a character who was a liar. It was helpful to notice this commonality; it’s a tool I can try to use in my mystery writing.

There were other things I noticed – authors who seemed to ask intriguing “What if?” questions, such as “What if humans were cloned for the purpose of donating organs?” And then letting their plot roll out from there. I love this. Of course, as soon as I started trying to think of “What if?” questions, I couldn’t think of any. I’m hoping some will come to me in moments of daydreaming.

In case others are interested, here is my list of books with great plots and twists. The books I personally recommend are in bold. Enjoy!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

One Of Us Is Lying, Karen M. McManus

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

Dead Letters, Caite Dolan-Leach

The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart

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My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Piccoult

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield 

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough

The Storyteller, Jodi Piccoult

The Good Girl, Mary Kubica

Triptych, Karin Slaughter

Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

Case Histories, Kate Atkinson

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver

 

 

goals · writing

Immersed In The World Of Writing

One of my goals is to become immersed in the world of writing. At least, as immersed as I can be in my current circumstances.

There’s a bulletin board that hangs on the wall beside my bed. Not much is pinned there – a few inspiring quotes, and then these three pieces of paper that I created during a group therapy session I led a few months ago. Three pieces of paper – three words, one written on each one. The words? Family, service, and writing.

When I zero in on what my priorities are, it’s these three things: my family, service to others, and writing. I am hopeful that, with my new job and my new schedule, it will be possible for every moment of my life to be in pursuit of these three priorities.

Now, my instinct, as always, is to write out a detailed plan for how I can stay immersed – how I can be connected to my writing pursuits at all times. 1. Listen to writing podcasts. 2. Read books about writing. 3. Use non-writing time – like time walking the dog – to think about specific pieces of writing. However – one thing that recovery has shown me is that things work out way better for me when I let go rather than when I tighten up and try to meticulously plan out every minute of my life.

So, my aim has been to let go a little. I now have more time to write than I’ve had in years, and that’s great. I don’t need to beat myself up for WHAT I decide to write at any given moment in time. Some days, I’ll show up to my computer, and I’ll start typing out blog posts; some days, I’ll want to visit my novel or a short story. If there’s ever a need for concentration in one area, it will arise naturally; for now, I have the freedom to write the thing that feels best in the present.

I only have a certain amount of time to write. But I want to devote as much of my non-writing time as possible to runway work – time to prep for the moments when I can finally sit down and put words on the blank page. I can feel it happening already – I’ll start pondering a potential blog post while I’m out on the trail running, or I’ll make a note when I’m reading of an interesting plot point an author has used.

Ever since my sabbatical started, I have a feeling of lightness in my heart that I haven’t had in years. I’m excited to see where the lightness takes me. For now – my butt’s in the chair, and I’ll be here, typing away.

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writing

Mornings

Today I am reflecting on the goals for my Summer Sabbatical. There were seven goals. A few of them will definitely be met, and a few of them are proving really challenging. For example – I have been pretty diligent about making time for writing, but that has meant that getting things on my to-do list done has been more challenging.

One of my intentions which was not on my list of goals is to form good routines with regard to everything I want to do and get done. This can be hard, because life is seasonal. What works in July won’t work in December. In my ideal world, I’d set up a regular weekly routine and I’d never have to change it unless I wanted to. It sounds exhausting to me, readjusting my schedule every time daylight or the work day changes.

I feel so grateful to have this break from work life to form good habits and to consider best practices. And, when possible, I really want to try to form habits NOW that I can carry with me once my new job starts.

The more I think about it, I zoom in on mornings as the time when I need to get up early to write. When I look at my days, there are chunks of time that can be devoted to writing, but the biggest periods of time available once work starts will be early in the morning or after Edgar’s bedtime. And I am NOT my best self in the evenings; I am, and I have always been, a morning person. If writing is important to me – and it really, really is – then I want to give writing my best and most reliable time of day.

My evenings can sometimes get lost amidst tidying and tiredness and outside events (meetings, dinner guests, etc). My mornings are mine – ESPECIALLY if I get up at four to make sure I have a significant amount of time to get writing done!

I gave this a try this morning – so this is my first Morning Pages-esque attempt at getting words on the page. My alarm went off at 4:30 A.M., and I didn’t sleep well last night, so snoozing and sleeping on sounded appealing – but I got up anyway, because this is important. And I’m grateful to have had this time to reflect and center before my day of adventures with my toddler begins.

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creativity · writing

Clearing The Cobwebs

Whenever I am away from my writing for a while, I find that it’s hard to return to fictional writing when I’m back at work. Before I’m able to dive back into fiction, I am usually drawn to writing a whole bunch of blog posts. I call this clearing the cobwebs, and I think it’s an important part of my writing process.

Sometimes, it’s been a few days or weeks since I’ve been able to sit down and write, the creative juices aren’t exactly flowing. And usually after that much time away, my thoughts are racing and crisscrossing and bumping into each other – to the point where I have to allow myself to focus on writing personal blog posts. Once I’ve gotten my multitude of thoughts somewhat formulated on the blank screen – only then can I turn to fiction and be both creative and productive.

I often wonder if this is true for other creators. Maybe painters who’ve been away for a while need to do some pencil sketches before they can run back to their easel. Maybe musicians need to jam a little, freestyle, before trying to compose after some time away. It could be true for others; it’s definitely true for me.

My instinct has been to chastise myself for this in the past. “You finally have time to write!  You should be writing the great American novel, not just scribbling about your trip to the beach and a little free library!” These past few weeks, though, I haven’t been beating myself up at all. I’ve accepted that this is part of my process, and I’ve enjoyed it. I think I’m able to enjoy this more because I’m not feeling as pressed for time as I usually am. When I look ahead, I know I will have time to write, even after I return to work in late August. I have a tentative plan, and some flexibility, and some faith.

With my new schedule and the intentions I’ve set, I’m hoping I’ll never be away from writing for too long or too often again. But I know it will happen from time to time, and I’m happy to have this playful, peaceful space where I can come to clear the cobwebs.

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