take care: UPDATED

get a free hug!

Do you take care of yourself? It’s important no matter who you are or what you do, but it’s also important for the writing itself. Your writing will do better if you the writer get enough sleep, some exercise, some snuggles or hugs, and time to daydream and ‘refill the well’ as Julia Cameron put it. I’m housesitting for a couple of artists and it’s a treat to be surrounded by art. I don’t take enough time out to go to plays, concerts, museums, galleries, readings, get a massage, etc.

Two other authors are talking about very different things, but both tie into this. First, Steven Pressfield has a great piece about some of his hardest years when he was learning how to write and the results were less than impressive:

Was I doing good work? Hell no. Everything I wrote was crap, and mainly I didn’t write at all. I had nothing to say. I had no point of view. I knew nothing and thought nothing. But still I was desperately driven. I’d work, save money, take a year or two and write a book. I say “book” but they weren’t books; when friends would read them, the look on their faces was excruciating. They were mortified.

Any of that familiar? Read the whole thing and save it for the hard days and those days will come. Will say, my closest friends had better poker faces! I also didn’t show anyone my earliest work until a guy at college asked to see a paper with the remark, “If you won’t let me read it, how will I ever get to know you?” (note: I was also painfully shy and so didn’t talk much). He said it with such kindness and genuine curiosity, I handed it over. Can’t say enough about kindness in this process. Anyway, even if you approach is steadier, it is usually a long hard slog to get your writing where you want it, where the reader enters the ‘fictive dream,’ and that takes us to Aaron Gansky’s latest on how to do that. I’m right there with him – when I read a book or watch a movie, I want to slip away into another reality. Creating that? A bit harder than receiving it:

As a writer, your job is to create a world that is tangible, experiential, and then hide yourself among the bushes so those who walk through the world cannot see you, cannot hear you. There’s nothing worse than a hyper self-aware writer….

Most are subtle traps we fall into, namely melodrama and over-writing. This is why subtlety is so important; it removes the writer from the forefront of the reader’s mind.

Read the rest for the ‘how to.’

Routine can be a great friend in getting past blocks and getting the writing done. Take care of yourself, establish a healthy routine. Which reminds me, there is that long association of writers and drinking/drugging. It’s possible to be creative, but it’s not necessary to the process (no matter what excuses you make for it- it’s not) and it shortens your career dramatically. Novelists can work all their lives, but add drugs and/or alcohol to the mix and you’ve got maybe 10 good years.

Do something nice for yourself today. And write something amazing. Keep going.

UPDATEHere’s Haruki Murakami on taking care of yourself as a novelist (especially when you’re writing 1,000 pg novel):

Murakami’s cool benefits from an un-nerdy background running a jazz club in his 20s, and his equally un-nerdy Ironman routine. As he detailed recently in his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami rises at 4am on most mornings, writes until noon, spends the afternoon training for marathons and browsing through old record stores and turns in, with his wife, at 9pm. As a regime, it is almost as famous as his novels and has the clean, fanatical air of a correction to the mess of his 20s. It is also the kind of discipline necessary to crank out 1,000 complicated pages in three years.

To Murakami, built like a little bull, it’s a question of strength. “It’s physical. If you keep on writing for three years, every day, you should be strong. Of course you have to be strong mentally, also. But in the first place you have to be strong physically. That is a very important thing. Physically and mentally you have to be strong.”

His habit of repetition, whether a stylistic tic or a side-effect of translation from the Japanese, has the effect of making everything Murakami says sound infinitely profound. He has written about the metaphorical importance of his running; that to complete an action every day sets a kind of karmic example for his writing. “Yes,” he says. “Mmmmm.” He makes a long contemplative sound. “I need strength because I have to open the door.” He mimes heaving open a door. “Every day I go to my study and sit at my desk and put the computer on. At that moment, I have to open the door. It’s a big, heavy door. You have to go into the Other Room. Metaphorically, of course. And you have to come back to this side of the room. And you have to shut the door. So it’s literally physical strength to open and shut the door. So if I lose that strength, I cannot write a novel any more. I can write some short stories, but not a novel.”

Is there an element of fear to overcome in those actions every morning?

“It’s just routine,” he says and laughs loudly. “It’s kind of boring. It’s a routine. But the routine is so important.”

The whole thing is worth reading.

Routine and resistance

Don’t writers hate routine? Not if they want to get serious writing done. After time away, removed from the U.S., the internet, social media and my daily routine, I’m back into it. There’s a lot to be said for getting completely away. But getting back, getting over jetlag and catching up on sleep also reminded me of the importance of routine in writing.

How dedicated are you? Or, if you prefer, how important is writing to you? I know people with families who work full-time and get up at 3 or 4 in the morning in order to have a couple of quiet hours to write. It’s that important to them. I’ve found that, like exercise, it works for me to start writing as soon as I can in the morning. At one of his lectures at Antioch, Marcos Villatoro talked about the importance for him of going straight to his desk from his dream state, barely stopping along the way to pick up a cup of coffee. It’s not so vital to me to get to the blank page directly out of sleep, but it is important for me to get some writing done in the morning, in part to have a feeling of accomplishment.

There are two takes on resistance and both have helped my writer friends. Take a look at Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and the follow-up, Do the Work. The other is that resistance is not so much something to overcome as it is a necessary part of the process, like a caterpillar emerging from the cocoon. Does resistance make your writing better? More thoughts on that here.

One thing that helped to get back into my writing routine was editing. I prepared Dead Weight as an ebook and published it via Smashwords. It’s available on iTunes and will soon be up on Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble, eDiesel, etc. (believe me, I’ll let you know when!) You can also buy it directly from Smashwords.

Discipline leads into the creative work. What’s your routine? What works best for you to get the writing done?

Happy New Year, new you, new writing

Do you make resolutions? There’s a lot of snark (enough with the snark already) out there especially about how resolutions are useless and meaningless, but I say they are a sign of hope and hope is a good thing. I don’t know how you have perseverance as a writer without hope. Hope that you will finish a book, write a lot of books, be published, have a bestseller, or write a book that will deeply touch even one other person – it doesn’t matter so much what your particular hope is, so much as it keeps you going, keeps you coming back to the page. So yes, heck yeah! make resolutions, realistic ones. You can’t resolve to write a bestseller (well, you can, but recognize that there are a host of factors out of your control) but you can resolve to write a page a day or finish your book or start your book (!) but break it down into modest steps that are achievable.

In addition to hope, there is preparation and once again, Steven Pressfield has an excellent post in his “When It Crashes” series. Prepare now, today, for when your writing doesn’t go well in order to soften the impact. You don’t want to be waylaid for weeks, months or years. One of his commenters noted that when things don’t go well, our focus shifts to ourselves and the task is to get that focus off ourselves and back to the page (good advice for most crises). Whenever  unpleasant things happen, we tend to think it’s all about us – keep that in mind for character development – but it’s not always the case. Maturity is about discerning the difference when we’ve really caused a problem (then taking responsibility for it) and when it’s about forces out of our control. People tend to think mostly about themselves (again, note for character development: it’s a big key for conflict). As writers, we spend a lot of  time thinking about why people do things and about our characters. We explore motivation, expectation and rationalization. All of those things are part of resolutions so you may as well use the process to benefit your life as well.

Today, take a little time to hope and dream. Let’s all resolve to be a little better.

all in all you’ve hit the wall

What are some of the reasons for stopping? In his book (which I recommend) on writing, IMMEDIATE FICTION, Jerry Cleaver makes the case for conflict and continually raising the stakes: “Happy lives make lousy novels…. If the characters are having a good time, the reader is not.” What if, on the other hand, it’s about you and not the page?

There are some problems that can cause you to hit the wall, creatively speaking. Things like myopia when it comes to the work, being totally rule-bound (though please know the rules before you begin breaking them), forgetting to play, concentrating too hard on the outcome you want, fear, difficulty taking risks, lack of perspective, not listening to other opinions, worrying too much what others will think, and writing for the entire world. Newsflash, you can’t please everyone. Open up your process and let it breath. Have a good time. Get to your point. Have a reader in mind and write to them. Go out and play once in awhile.

The solutions for you as a writer are remembering your playfulness, striking that balance between what you want to say and getting helpful input from others, clarity, resourcefulness, research, persistence, flexibility and a willingness to go with your strengths while developing your weaknesses. If story isn’t your strong suit, do some writing exercises that focus only on the story. Honing your pitch would be one of them. The National Storytellers Network has lots of resources. There are more here. Visit Toastmasters. Yes, Toastmasters – tell a story to a room full of people. Write a play. Take an acting class. Get out of your comfort zone and improve your writing.

Can you play through pain? Are you stuck because it’s just too difficult? Marathoners (and for the record, that in no way describes me – blew out my knee playing soccer when I was a teen) talk about hitting the wall around mile 22 (26.2 miles in a marathon). There are plenty of sites and books to tell you how to prepare for the wall, but if you’re going to compete physically at a certain level – if you are serious about it – you learn to play (or run) through pain. In a sense, the same is true for writing. You have to learn to write no matter how you’re feeling (within reason – time off for major life events). In other words, it does not matter if the subject matter is uncomfortable psychologically or if you think the first three chapters stink or (whine, whine) you just don’t feeell like writing today, keep at it. When I talk to other novelists about it, our mile 22 is usually in act 2 (what is it with the number 2?) The fun and agony of it is that no one can save you, the writer, in Act 2. You have to find your own way out. Steven Pressfield and the always-opinionated David Mamet have been there and written about it. More on getting unstuck by Michael Bungay Stanier. Now that you are, go write!


Some of the people at school (see below) read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I find it interesting to look at what authors are doing besides writing. Pressfield, who wrote Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, and so on has taken his research on Alexander the Great’s Afghan campaign and looked at Afghanistan. He doesn’t pretend to be a general or historian and adds new information as he receives it (including a youtube from a Pashtun tribesman!)

The military has made use of writers’ imaginations in the past. Interesting post on why military officers need novels that includes speculation about what may have happened regarding Vietnam if more decision-makers had read Greene’s The Quiet American.

:Citrons in black and whitesome of my class of not very quiet Americans