Take your notebook on a writing vacation

I was feeling all tangled up with the many different projects I’m working on, so much so that I dreaded sitting at my computer. Outside, it was summer, and I live in a place where people come for dream vacations. I decided to play tourist for a day. I went on a long drive that ended at the beach, gathered treasures at a used bookstore, and ate crab cakes at a swanky restaurant with a fabulous view. You know what I was doing the whole time? Writing. I filled page after page in my journal with observations, ideas and even a new poem. Suddenly the tap was wide open, all because I took myself out of my usual setting and my usual schedule. I also got away from the Internet, which was a big factor. I had forgotten to charge my phone, so I had to turn it off. And my brain said, “Yippee! let’s play.”

At lunch, while I was scribbling in my notebook, I couldn’t resist writing a description of a woman sitting at a corner table by herself. She wore casual clothes and her hair up in a ponytail. She had her laptop open in front of her and was eating with one hand and typing with the other. What really got my attention was that she was drinking champagne. As the bubbles rose in her glass, I wondered what she was celebrating and whether she actually tasted the champagne or saw the incredible view just outside the window. What’s her story? My imagination is still toying with that picture, which I would not have seen from my desk at home. You might want to play with it, too. Who is she? Why was she drinking champagne alone at noon in an expensive restaurant at the beach?

I’m taking the month of August off from this Writer Aid blog. More sunny days and other projects need my attention. My assignment for you is to take your notebook–I mean the paper kind–and a couple of pens or pencils and take yourself on a mental vacation. Turn the phone, tablet and computer off. Write down whatever comes to you. Don’t worry about marketing or any of that. You’re creating raw material. If nothing comes, just breathe, just live life for a while. The words will come when it’s time.

While I’m on vacation, you might want to look at my updated list of resources for writers. I welcome suggestions for things I have missed and alerts to links that don’t work.

See you in September. Let’s go write.

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Where is the Best Place to Write?

My officeWhy is it that some of us find it easier to write away from home? I know I do. I’ve got a whole office set up with everything I need and nobody to distract me, but I still find that the words flow more easily when I go somewhere else, whether it’s a tiny table in a crowded Starbuck’s or a rock beside a river.

Home just has too many distractions, chores that need doing, family members calling for attention, or today in my case, the unidentified critter that seems to be living under my kitchen floor. It’s hard to concentrate when you hear claws scratching at something, possibly something important like the wiring. It’s also hard to concentrate when the dog is running around whining with her nose to the linoleum. Sooner or later, I’m going to have to do something about this situation, along with several other house problems that are screaming for my attention. But right now it’s time to write.

For me, once I get going, I can write pretty much anywhere. I spent years writing in busy newspaper offices with phones ringing, people talking, and folks coming in and out. It can be done, especially with deadlines pushing you to get the work done, but is it ideal? Not for me. I like it quiet.

Different writers have different needs for their writing space. Some keep music playing all the time; some need silence. Some are comfortable surrounded by stacks of books and papers; others need clean surfaces. Some need a windowless room with no distractions; others find inspiration looking out the window.

Whatever feels right to you is what you should have. If you can write on your laptop wherever you happen to be, or if a dedicated space makes you feel claustrophobic, make your backpack your traveling office. But most of us benefit from a dedicated space where we keep our computers, books and papers, and where we can surround ourselves with whatever we need to feel comfortable, whether it’s inspirational pictures and knickknacks, a cat to keep us company, or a cooler full of beer. Well, maybe not the beer. Write first, drink later.

I recently saw a picture online of a vintage travel trailer one writer turned into her office. It’s cozy and cute and best of all, it’s not in her house. My parents used to have a similar trailer, and I wrote in it for a while. It felt great.

In some cities, writers have joined forces to share rented office space to write. They share amenities like photocopiers, Wi-Fi access, and conference rooms. Read here about a few in New York or click here to read about The Writers’ Barn in Vermont. Here in Oregon, Willamette Writers has set up a writing house, where for $10 a day, writers can come write in comfortably furnished rooms decorated in famous-writer themes. Yes, it’s a house, but it’s not their own house. During NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), members get together for write-ins, where they work on their novels together. That shared energy can really work.

We can all think of a hundred reasons why we can’t write, but lack of a comfortable writing space should not be one of them. Even if all you have is a corner of a room, claim it, put a screen around it if you have to, and get to work.

Where do you write? I would love to hear about your writing spaces and suggestions in the comments.

Now go write.


What Kind of Writer Do You Want to Be?

People are always telling aspiring writers that they need to sit down and write. Write every day. I say that, too. Every week, I conclude this blog with “Now go write.” But you might be wondering “Write what?” Some days I wonder that, too.

If you have a paying writing gig, either as a job or a freelance assignment, you know what you need to write. All you need to do is get off Facebook and do it. But if all you know is that you ought to be writing SOMETHING, what should you write? Where do you start? When I’m between projects, I turn to my piles of prompts and the ideas I scratched out in moments of inspiration, but sometimes none of those seem right. To be honest, sometimes I play the piano, buy groceries or work on a puzzle instead. But more often, I sit down with my journal and just start writing whatever’s on my mind. Usually it leads me into my next writing project. Yesterday, for example, the date, May 8, reminded me that I made my First Communion in the Catholic Church on May 8 many years ago. That led to seven pages of memoir about what it was like at church in those pre-Vatican II days, so different from how it is now.

Many writers I admire preach the benefits of journaling, writing “morning pages” or doing free-writing exercises to get the writing juices flowing. Just get the pen (or the fingers on the keys) moving and don’t worry about whether what you’re writing is any good or has any chance of being published. You can turn to books like Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life and Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir for lots of ideas to get you started. Julia Cameron also preaches free-writing in her book The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life.The idea is that writing is like a sport or playing a musical instrument. You need to warm up. I agree. Lots of times when I feel completely uninspired, all I need to do is start writing and the inspiration comes.

Other writers will say this is a waste of time. If you’re going to do writing exercises, why not write something that advances your work in progress? All I can say is do whatever works for you.

Which brings us back to that work in progress. What is it? What kind of writing do you want to do?

Some readers here are firmly established in one genre or another. They write novels or poetry or essays or articles. Others are still trying to figure out where they belong. There’s nothing wrong with dabbling in lots of different kinds of writing, but eventually you’ll find one genre fits you better than all the others. Think about what you love to read. If all your dreams came true, would you find your byline on a feature in the New York Times, on the cover of a novel, on the spine of volume of poetry, or on top of the most popular blog ever? Do you just want to capture your stories for your family and friends? Or, are you looking to make lots and lots of money writing and don’t really care if you get a byline? Are you attracted to technical writing, corporate PR or advertising? Would you like to write movies? Plays? Porn?

Forget about money or fame. What kind of writing feels most natural? What kind of writing gets you so involved that you lose track of time? What would you be most proud of having written?

Today’s assignment is to write about what kind of writer you want to be and then write about what you need to do to become that kind of writer. Do you need to take classes, download programs, read books, apply for jobs, or join a writing group? What have other writers done to get where they are? Write yourself a plan. Then, next time you sit down to write, put that plan into action. If you have decided to write a novel, start writing it. If you want to write a movie, write the opening scene. If you want to be a technical or corporate writer, write your resume and start sending it out. Make a plan, write out the steps, and then take those steps one at a time.

I welcome your questions and comments.

Now go write. 🙂

 


The Twelve Prompts of Christmas

Whether or not you believe in Christmas, you must believe in writing or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So here’s my gift to you after oh, 15 minutes of deep thought. Fill in the blanks to write tweets, poems, stories, articles, opinion pieces, whatever feels right. You’re welcome share the results in the comments. Unless it’s really good. Then keep it to yourself and publish it.

1. When he reached into his Christmas stocking, he never expected to find____________

2. He said, “I promise you I won’t______________________”

3. It was the first time she __________________________

4. Under the snow, she found _________________________

5. My mother’s (or father’s) idea of a good Christmas was ________________________

6. I stared at my present in disbelief. It was _______________________________

7. If I were in charge of Christmas, I would ____________________________

8. Santa’s on a special diet this year, so I’m leaving him ________________________

9. Gun in hand, he stared at the blow-up snowman and said, “_____________________”

10. Mary said to Joseph the night the Baby was born, “__________________________”

11. Wearing his old suit that was too big for him now, Bud Johnson slipped into the back pew at church on Christmas Eve. It was ________________________

12. “What have you got now?” she screamed at the dog. She reached into the canine’s mouth and pulled out __________________________

Merry Christmas to one and all, and to all, NOW GO WRITE.