Tag Archives: Natalie Goldberg

Writing Tip: Wielding Perseverance

Writing, like most things in life is up and down.  Some days it flows easily and gracefully.  But the next it turns laborious.  You may be flying high that everyone loves what you’ve written. Other times you may not be able to find a soul (not even you) to tell you your writing’s any good.  It can go like this – you show up to the desk or paper and your head is bursting with ideas.  You’ve finally figured out how to say it!  Out it comes.  Ahh . . .  Done. Feeling good. The next day, you sit there at the same keyboard or pad and nothing comes. Your mind is completely blank.  Oh yeah, you forgot to put the wash into the dryer. . . .  Isn’t that a pretty bird out there?

Many people who go through the monstrous job of completing a book-length manuscript find themselves exhausted from the process.  It might feel like nothing will ever come again.

I’m not one who believes in writer’s block.  Writer’s stuck?  Sure thing.  But not a block.  (Unless, of course, something very traumatic happens in your life to staunch the flow.)  Barring any catastrophic incidents, there is always a way out.

Perhaps you’ve done a project for a client and it is not accepted the way you wanted it to be.  You feel defeated.

So, what do you do in these cases?  Persevere.  As an everyday writer, we need this in our tool box. We use perseverance to get us through the book. The very same skills  get you to complete any writing assignment, especially the tough ones. You have it, you just have to work it a little harder at times.

The first step in the process of perseverance is acceptance.  Perseverance will get you out of being stuck and keep you going when you’re spent.  But it cannot work without acceptance. Once you say, okay, I’m stuck, then you can do something about it. Only then can you persevere and say I’m not done!

A sure-fire way to persevere is to write. Get back on the horse as they say.  Put the pen to paper and write. Write about what you’re feeling. Sketch out a devilish plan to get back at the person who dissed you. Whatever you can to get the muscles working again. You might try Natalie Goldberg’s writing practice.  10 minutes on a topic.  Go!  Before you know it, flow will return and you can pick up where you left off.

Perseverance is like courage.  It is something you must wield through daily (sometimes moment-by-moment) conscious choice. Remember perseverance never ends. Completing a manuscript is only the beginning if you are going to publish. There is still a lot of work ahead.  And another project waiting to begin, the next assignment to undertake.

Stay with it.  Don’t stop. Decide to persevere another day.

A wonderful resource for getting to know perseverance is Julia Cameron’s “Finding Water.”

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Writing Well

Sketching Life

I use sketching as an important part of my writing process. I need the feel of pen to paper. Natalie Goldberg said that it connects you more directly to your heart. I find it also makes for a good link between me and my thoughts.

I sketch out on paper what I want to write about. I compose as I go, but I am free to leave notes to myself. In random order, I write as it comes to me, easy and without pressure. In essence this is a way of gathering my thoughts on the piece I want to write.

When faced with a decision or conflict, this technique can also be handy. Spilling out my thoughts on the various parts of the issue can be quite revealing. This exercise provides a venue for personal growth by defining what you feel and believe. To spread it out raw, in front of you, you can get a better view of what’s going on. And how it needs to be re-arranged.

In both cases, it makes for material that is more authentic.

You can start by describing whatever is before you. The order matters little. Maybe talk about how you feel about it. What are the emotions dancing around in side you? If it’s a decision you can sketch out both sides to see what may be found down each path. You might discover a fear is holding you back. Anything that you’re thinking or feeling about it will be helpful. The finished product shines a fresh light on the situation and can bring new perspective. Along with accompanying insights.

For a piece of writing, it can unearth a refreshing take on your topic.

In the end, perhaps sketching can soften how we look at our writing and our lives. It’s an easy step, with no pressure. Your investigations might reveal a long forgotten ache that can now be realized or forgiven. Maybe you will see a more loving take on how to proceed. An answer. A decision. A direction.

Leave a comment

Filed under Spirit

Putting Energy Into It

Recently, I’ve upscaled my daily writing quota to fill my five Blogs. As I’ve said, some of it was written or figured out long ago. But each piece has needed my attention in some volume of time. Many are just snippets or ideas that need to be developed.

I have put in a lot of time with this over the past . . . Has it been 6 weeks? I have to say, it’s been really wonderful. Easier than I thought it would be and has stirred up some good reaction.

I said awhile back, and I maintain that nothing breeds writing like writing. If you want to write, the only thing you have to do is sit down and write. It’s as simple as that.

We are creatures of energy. Where we put our energy has effect in the world. It has impact.  It makes perfect practical sense. If I am interested in gems, for instance, I will likely read a lot about them, spend time looking at them, maybe attend gem shows or frequent stores where they are sold. Consequently, there are likely to be gems in my life. Is it physics?

It is how so many writers are able to write a novel in a weekend or in a month for National Novel Writing Month. The more you write, the more ideas come up, inspiring you to write more. The physical act of writing (and the mental activity along with it) builds energy.

Natalie Goldberg speaks about getting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and just writing anything at all. Even if you write, “I don’t know what to write,” it will get you going. Speaking of Natalie she has some great starters like “swimming, the stars, green places, physical endurance. . .”  Google Writing Prompts and see what you can get!

The point is, if you want to write (or play tennis or score an opera or be a better dad) you have to put energy into it.

It piles up. Sharon Salzberg, a gifted spiritual writer, talks of the Buddhist concept of drops of water in a bucket. Eventually the bucket will fill. She is talking about moments of awareness, but it works just the same for writing. It’s how a mother can get a novel written in the hour she has each morning before her baby wakes. The more you write, the more energy will sustain you. Writing breeds more writing. It can only be stopped by your decision to put your energy elsewhere.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing Well

Writing Tip: The Beauty of Journalling

I don’t know if there is any more important tip I can offer than this. It has been nothing short of pivotal in my evolution as a writer.

Every day, for nearly 20 years, I have written in my journal. I say every day and that’s not much of an exaggeration. There have been only a handful of times in all these years that I have not been able to write three pages. On vacation, during an emergency situation or when I can’t get the alone time I need, I might get in one or two pages. I rarely have missed more than two days in a row. On those occasions when I have not been able to make to the journal, I have felt it palpably. So I don’t let that feeling happen if I can help it. Perhaps one might say I’m addicted to journalling. If you are around me when I have missed a day, you will likely ask me what’s wrong.

Taught by two of my favorite writing teachers, Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron, I think it’s a safe addiction. Natalie sees it as writing practice, Julia calls them morning pages. Natalie’s are more directly for writers, whereas Julia’s cover artists of every stripe.

Natalie’s instructions are just to fill up a notebook a month with anything. She explains her process, “In my notebooks I don’t bother with the side margin or the one at the top. I fill the whole page. I am not writing anymore for a teacher or for school. I am writing for myself first and don’t have to stay within my limits, not even margins. This gives me a psychological freedom and permission. And when my writing is on and I’m really cooking, I usually forget about punctuation, spelling, etc. I also notice that my handwriting changes. It becomes larger and looser.”

Julia’s description is thus, “Put simply, the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of consciousness. They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.” She goes on to say, “There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily meanderings are not meant be art. Or even writing . . . Pages are meant to be, simply the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included.”

Here’s my take on it – Find a quiet space and time to sit down and write, by hand, as Julia prescribes, 3 full pages every day. As per Natalie’s instructions, I use cheap coil bound notebooks (usually around a dollar a piece). You can write anything at all. I have given you some starters below. Just whatever is traipsing through your mind at the time. Remember that there are no limits.

I need a good 45 minutes to properly do it. Tea is incorporated in my routine. I will add a half a page of gratitudes (or fill in for my three, if need be.) I am willing to get up earlier to have that time. But for most people, a good ½ hour should do it.

Choose a regular time that fits into your schedule. I believe both teachers prefer that they be done in the morning, first thing. That’s worked for me. But I think the discipline is more important than the time. If it’s easy for you to do, you’ll be more likely to do it. Stick to that assigned time for as many days as you can. Experts often advise three weeks to develop a new habit. If you miss a day, take it up again the next. Once it’s habit, you’ll be into it like I am. You won’t want to miss a day.

I find a good way to begin is to talk about how you feel. If you struggle with emotions, you can try the twitch in your knee or the tension in your arm. Best-selling author Cheryl Richardson offers some questions to get you going: (I keep this list with my pens so I have it if I get stuck.)
This morning I feel –
I’m always (or I have been) daydreaming about –
My nagging inner voice keeps telling me –
The thoughts that roll around in my heard are –
My soul longs to –
What I’m most afraid of is –
What I’m most grateful for is –
My inner critic tells me –
You can make up your own.  If you prefer, go for something more practical like three things I wish to do today, or three ways I’d like to improve or change how I feel, maybe three things I’d like to give away today.

The daily practice of journalling has created a ballast in my life. No matter where my life takes me, how many hours I work, how much money I have, how I feel, I always have my journal (or some paper) and a pen with me. I take it on vacation and get up a little earlier so I have quiet time with the journal. I am always happier for it and feel it keeps me grounded.

Journalling helped me find my voice ~ whether my writing works or not, touches you or not, I strive to make it true to My Voice. (My voice, maybe, on its best behavior.) That came from journalling endlessly in any voice, with any words in whatever order.

Oh how I love using the journal for fleshing out and experimenting with dialog and scenes! I have had to copy many pages out of my journal where I just got into it and it flowed so well, I had to lift the whole thing. Journalling is also a fine venue for getting to know characters and playing out scenes with different endings.

In journalling there is no one looking over your shoulder, no one waiting to judge it. You can try on ideas about why you do things or how you could do them better. It’s a wide open playground.

Journalling has provided an amazing mirror for me. It is where I can examine all my thoughts – good and bad. To muse on how I feel and what I think about this and that, provides a wonderful outlet. I can have a fight with my best friend for whatever it was she did to me. I can yell and scream and ask, how could she do such a thing! All without upsetting a hair on her head. And truthfully, when I’m done spewing in the journal,  I’m rarely left with those negative feelings. Very often, being able to release  all the nasties, I come around to understanding and forgiveness. I see things from a fresh perspective.

In Conversations with God, which I like to quote heavily, God tells us that the purpose of life is to remember who you are and discover who you choose to be. In the journal, as you write day after day, you come to know who you are. It becomes a wide open field to stretch your mind around who you’d like to be. The journal provides a safe haven to be as honest as you can.

You can have amazing discoveries when you journal. You never know what might happen. People you haven’t thought about in years can pop up. Or a poem will spring out on the page in front of you. You don’t have to stop and wonder if it’s good enough. You’re just journalling. And what a forum for dreaming it is! In the journal you can imagine how things could be.  If only ~  and a few sentences allowed to flow in this direction might reveal untapped hopes and desires. There is much to find in this treasure chest!

If you can, read them back. Julia Cameron advises this. Give it eight weeks, she says and then take a look at what you wrote. I admit, I’m not good at that. But when I  stop to do it, I find all kinds of things: insightful passages, incredible ideas, and illustrative narrative. If I were to mine them more often, I’d have a lot of material I could use elsewhere.

Journalling is worth the time. It can add up quickly. (I have so many coil notebooks I could build a separate dwelling!) It is seriously good writing practice. When you journal regularly you can develop writing chops, sharpen critical thinking, build descriptive skills, and open new vistas . . . and find yourself at the same time!

I believe the more you know yourself, the truer and more honest your writing will be.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing Well