write. play. repeat.

from joy to joy to joy

Day 6 – Spruce Up Your Space

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Happy Saturday!  Hopefully, today has provided you with some extra time to catch up if you’re behind, and maybe get a little ahead of the target word count in preparation for a busy week.

The weekend is a great chance to take a look at your at-home writing space and see what you can do to make it easier for you to work.  Do you have a better lamp you could stick over there?  Do you need a more comfortable chair?   No need to go out to the office furniture store and buy all new stuff – you probably have something around the house that will do just fine.

Before your next writing session, take 15 minutes (no more!*) to spruce up the part of the house you’ll be writing in.   Lay out your notes in an organized way and get rid of any stray bits of paper that don’t pertain to the day’s work.

As I write this post, my home office is littered with boxes that need to go out to the recycling bin and stray items that need to “find a home.”  I’m planning on tackling that right after I hit “publish” because I absolutely can’t stand working in a really messy place.    It’s messy enough inside my head – I don’t need the environment to match it!


* I know lots of creative folks who get a sudden, uncontrollable urge to clean everything whenever they’re about to work.  This is called procrastination.  Limit yourself to 15 minutes and use a timer if you must.

Day 4 – Use the Buddy System


30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Believe it or not, some folks have an easier time keeping up with a writing schedule during the week because their schedule is fairly structured.  Juggling weekly work and responsibilities requires that writing time be scheduled and kept up with if you want to meet your word count goals.  While the idea of having a whole bunch of extra free time on the weekend may lead you to believe it’s easier to catch up then, many people find that the lack of structure breeds procrastination.

As you approach the weekend, you may want to consider finding a friend or fellow participant to be your accountability buddy.

See if you can find someone to check in with each day this month (or maybe just on the weekends, if that’s when you need it most).  Set up a time to call or email each other just to say, “Hey, have you written today?”  or “I’m planning to write from 3pm – 5:30pm and then break for dinner.  I will call you when I’m done.” If your “buddy” is local, you could schedule meet-ups and go pound out some pages at a local coffee shop together.

Sometimes, just knowing you have someone expecting you to give them a progress report can help you meet your daily goals.  You’ll also have someone you can vent to or lean on when your energy is flagging.

If you’re looking for an Accountability Buddy, feel free to use the comments section here to find someone!

Day 3 – Resist the Urge

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Right about now, you may be starting to feel it.  It starts as a tickle at the back of your mind, then perhaps a twitch in your left eye.  You get up for a cup of tea and find that the feeling isn’t going away.   I wonder if that’s the exact name I gave the coffee shop in the first chapter?  Does Ralph limp on his left side or his right?

Your hand moves to the mouse to click back a few pages, just to be sure…  Don’t do it!

This is not the time to edit things you wrote two days ago.  Actually, the time to edit won’t even be on December 1st.  Going back to “fix” everything you just did will only keep you on a writing hamster wheel — putting in a lot of effort, but not getting anywhere.   Today, try to resist the urge to repair and check up on details or plot lines you established at the start of the week.

If your story is going completely off the rails, you can gently nudge it back on course or choose to follow one of the wacky tangents that have come up without going backwards and retrofitting.   If you end up in a different place than you started, you can always edit the start of your novel to fit the new plot… later.  Much, much later.

At this point, trying to correct as you go along is just another form of procrastination.  Let the desire for perfection go and keep plugging away at the task ahead.  Onward!

Day 2 – Establish your habits

30 Days of Encouragement for NaNoWriMo (and other writers, too!)

Congratulations on beginning this project!  You’ve taken a step that, whether driven by a plan or by sudden impulse, is often the hardest for people.  You’ve started and managed to churn out a few (or a lot) of words onto the screen.

I want to encourage you very early on to establish habits and a routine for your NaNoWriMo efforts.  Decide today to schedule your writing sessions in advance.A project like this requires daily writing for most people, and if you have obligations other than writing you absolutely need to decide ahead of time when you will be able to work.

If you can’t pick a specific time, that’s ok.  Something like, “Every evening after dinner” or “Right when I wake up, after walking the dog” is ok if you know you will be able to stick to it.

As you’re getting started, you may not need the extra motivation to sit down and write – the excitement and newness of the project drives you to it with little effort.   However, when week 3 rolls around, you may find that your days have filled up with a lot of activity and you’re struggling to work in time at the desk.   Prevent that now by using tools to help you plan (Google Calendar and TeuxDeux are two of my best friends) and setting a routine you can stick with.

Wishing you good work and happy writing!

In Solidarity


I’m not a novelist, and don’t really have any current plans to be one.  Songs and poems are my preferred (very short) forms. I am, however, someone who loves writing and writers and I admire the spirit of everyone who chooses to spend November slaving over a keyboard.  As such, I always get a little bit of NaNoWriMo fever when November rolls around and want to do something along with my friends and loved ones who are working so hard to churn out 50,000 words over the course of 30 days.

My big brother was a state champion runner in high school.  My favorite job was being his personal cheerleader, hurrying to certain points along the race route to shout and yell for him to get to the finish line.  I’m not sure how much I helped, but my brother told me he could always hear me encouraging him.

In that spirit, I’m going to be spending the next 30 days working along with you and cheering from the sidelines.  I’ll be posting every day this month, and I hope that some of the posts will offer encouragement, humor, and a little bit of inspiration to keep you going until December.

At the start of this crazy, difficult, amazing challenge, I wish you nothing more than to set aside perfectionism and write, write, write.  This is an opportunity to let go of your critical voices and internal editors for awhile, send them on an island getaway, and just get some material onto the page.    Set aside any judgment for now – the goal is quantity, not quality this go ’round.

Ready, Set, Go!


I’ve been suffering from a case of input overload lately.

With a combination of blogs and news sites, watching a lot of  online videos and (God bless it) Netflix, listening to audiobooks and podcasts… I have come down with a classic case of what Julia Cameron calls “over-reading”.  There is so much information coming at me at any given time that I scarcely have a moment to create my own material.  Listening to every voice but my own makes it really hard for me to complete anything.

It is with this in mind that I am committing to a self-imposed retreat from information.   Because of the nature of my job, it’s difficult right now to do a full-on separation from reading (as Cameron recommends in The Artist’s Way), but the guidelines for my retreat will be this:

For one week, I will avoid

  • watching television
  • listening to audiobooks
  • listening to podcasts
  • reading blogs
  • reading periodicals and magazines
  • reading books

I don’t know if looking at that list scares the bejeezus out of you like it does me, but I think it’s important to do scary things sometimes, so I’m going to just deal with it.

My exceptions will be:

  • reading pieces submitted by my fellow writing group members
  • reading comments on my blogs
  • reading emails
  • reading work-related material

So if you need to get in touch with me via the written word, those are your options.  I’m hoping that, a week from now, my system will be rebooted and I’ll be ready to dive into my work more deeply.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed with information?

Have you ever needed to “reboot”?  How did you do it?

Monkey Mind

Check email.  Check Twitter.  Read blog post.  Refresh Google Reader.  Work. Check email.  Look at YouTube video a friend sent.  Work.  Write email.  Chat with a friend.  Get up and get more coffee.  Read Twitter feed.  Click on every link in Twitter feed.  Work.  Repeat.

The above is an example of my typical routine on a day when I have been overtaken by Monkey Mind.

The idea of monkey mind in Buddhism refers to the way that our minds like to jump from thought to thought the way that a playful monkey jumps from limb to limb on a tree. There is no focus or stillness, no engaging with the present moment.  The Monkey Mind is constantly looking for new stimuli, new thoughts, new ways to distract from the present and focus on the past or the future instead.

One of the reasons I wanted to sign up for the 21*5*800 project is that I had slipped away from my yoga practice in the last few months and knew on some level how vital it is to my creativity.  In the past couple of weeks, especially, I’ve been running on “survival mode” instead of feeling engaged in my days.  The practices of yoga and meditation are efforts to “tame” the thought-monkey and get us to live more in the present tense. As such, they are perfect companions for me as I delve deeper into my creative practice.

With Vinyasa yoga, my body is constantly flowing from one pose to another.   By moving physically, I can focus my mind on the pose at hand in any given moment, rather than thinking about my day or worrying about something that’s coming up.   Because of the effort involved, I have no choice but to concentrate on what I am doing, rather than what I am thinking.   One of my old theater teachers was constantly talking to us about getting into our bodies… as a teenager, I didn’t really grasp what he meant, but I can see now how getting into your body, really feeling and being aware of your body, keeps you anchored in the present at all times — which is exactly where most performers want to be.

The other side of the practice is stillness.  At the end of a yoga session, we often stay in Savasana (corpse pose) for several minutes, to recover and relax and integrate the practice.   After all the physical exertion of yoga, as gentle as it can be, savasana seems like it would be a piece of cake.   For me, it is actually the most challenging part of the practice.

Once my body is done moving and I have to lie in stillness, the thoughts start coming back and there’s that Monkey Mind, jumping around.   At this point, though, it’s easier for me to have compassion for it, to look at it fondly and say, “Oh, you, get back over here,” and pat it on the head.   I can be more gentle with myself than I normally would, and just bring attention back to my breath and my body, feeling my muscles relax into the floor.

After several minutes of this (the monkey running off to play, and me gently but firmly bringing my attention back to the present), something lovely happens.   The thoughts seem to spread apart more.   There is space between each thing that pops up, and the urgency with which they demand my attention is released.  This feeling is so peaceful and filled with joy for me that I will often have to wipe away tears when I sit up at the end of a session.

The first time I did an Ashtanga yoga class was unforgettable.  The night was warm and clear, and my body was sore but blissed out.  I was proud of myself.  I drove home with the windows down and the radio off.   It was the first time I could remember in years that I had driven anywhere without the radio playing.   Silence.  Stillness.  Joy.

Do you allow yourself any freedom from your thoughts during the day?  If so, what’s your favorite way to do it?

Sometimes, you need to do something drastic.

This is one of those times for me.  When I get into a good groove, where I feel comfortable (and I am a creature who loves comfort) I tend to stop taking risks.  And risk is part of what creativity is all about.

When I get to this point, I start seeking out Helpers.   For me, Helpers are people who will give me a good kick in the ass.   People who inspire me, who challenge me, who make me see something differently.   When I’m all out of motivating myself, my Helpers come in and create the community support I need to keep going.   Bindu Wiles suddenly became one of my Helpers last week, with a big ole kick in the ass to offer.

I stumbled across Bindu’s project on Friday afternoon and signed up instantly.  I mean, instantly.  I didn’t even have time to go over the rant in my head that would usually ensue:

This is nuts! Who has time for this?  I am terrible at commitments, I would drop this thing in three days… Why would I even try to do it?  I like yoga but I suck at it, I’m not very prolific these days and 800 words is a lot.  Every day!   I mean, seriously?!

Nope.  Blame it on the Morning Pages I’ve been doing lately (which is typically done automatic-writing style) but my hands completely bypassed that part of my brain and signed the rest of me up without asking permission.  That internal monologue up there? It happened right after I signed up, but by then it was useless.   My name was on the list and I had committed myself to… well, I’ll let Bindu tell you:

On June 8th, (this coming Tuesday) I’d like you to join me for a community project online I’ve created called 21.5.800.

For 21 days, we’ll be doing 5 days of yoga a week and 800 words of writing per day. WAIT!

Don’t stop reading! Hear me out.

Here’s the deal;

THE WRITING: The writing can be ANYTHING. Memoir, blogs, business plans, essays, fiction, free-writing, letters,……..ANYTHING. The point is to get writing again daily and to have the boundaries and challenge of a daily word count to reach.

THE YOGA: There are several options for you to do the yoga portion of 21.5.800 5 times in 7 days.  Here are the options: 1. Go to a yoga class in your ‘hood. 2. Do a yoga dvd at home. 3. Take a 20-40 minute savasana* (see below) at home on the floor.

(You can read the rest of the post here:  my new project: 21.5.800)

So, does this sound like the kind of extra motivation you could use right now?  Do you like the idea of doing it with a big group of people instead of having to stay motivated all by yourself?     There’s still time to sign up!

Let me know if you decide to do it, and we’ll check in with each other here.  I’ll be posting entries about how the project is going for me starting tomorrow.

There is No "There" There.

I loved Julie’s post today over at Writing Roads about the Phases of the Writer, so please go check it out. ( I have particularly experienced 1, 3, and 5  a lot lately!) It ties in perfectly with my thoughts on cyclical creativity, and the process of writing, and with this post I wanted to write today.

Something that is hard to grasp as a writer (or any creative person) is that there isn’t a destination at which you will finally Arrive and someone will declare you Finished.  You don’t “become” an artist in the same way that you can go to school for a set amount of years and become a doctor.  You won’t master all the tips and tricks, figure out a great writing routine, and then be on autopilot for the rest of your career.   Instead, there will be highs and lows, constant learning, adjusting and readjusting. This process in ongoing, forever and ever amen.

Does that sound like it sucks?

It doesn’t.

Once you realize, I mean really, really internalize that idea, you are free.  You can look at those nights where nothing is coming, or the days when you can’t stop working, and just take them in stride rather than seeing them as a reflection of your worth as at artist. The big lesson here is that  having an unproductive day (or week) doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be an artist.

This can be really hard for us to believe.  Most of us are way better at believing something negative, something that implies we are no good, than something that is redeeming and hopeful.

Have I mastered this idea yet? Certainly not, but I am way more comfortable with it than I was when I started this blog and really started looking at my own creative process.  Now when there’s a drought, I’m not completely wrecked for weeks and worried that I am washed up.  I just try to find some other ways to get inspired and wait for the rain.

Falling off the wagon with a loud thud.

The past two months have managed to suck me back into a pattern of non-productivity on the writing front. It’s official – I fell off the writing wagon.  Work got crazy,  My performance schedule got (thegoodkindof) crazy, my allgergies hijacked my body a couple of times,  and my brother is getting married at the end of the month, which is its own kind of crazy.  It’s easy for me to get so busy that one of things that keeps me the most grounded, my writing, falls to the wayside…and that’s exactly what happened, as evidenced by my complete lack of blogging.

This happens to everyone from time to time, and I think it’s important to remind yourself that it’s OK.  The best thing to do is just to start over, get back into a routine, and keep writing.  If I spent two more weeks beating myself up about NOT writing, I still wouldn’t have anything to show for it, so why not just skip that part and get back to work?

I started a yoga class this month and a pleasant but unexpected side effect has been that it clears my mind perfectly to prepare for a writing session.  I’m going to reschedule one of my weekly sessions with myself so that I can have time to write after yoga.     If you’re having trouble with your own hectic life and not having time or energy to work on your writing, I definitely recommend a yoga class or another type of exercise.  It manages to make me both relaxed and absolutely present at the same time, and that is a fantastic feeling.

What do you do when you “fall off the wagon”?  What’s the best way for you to get back in the habit?