Thursday, March 25, 2010

 

Exercising the Write Muscles

I'm watching snow fall in Denver as I write this.
My family and I have been on a vacation of sorts for more than a week. I've been enjoying my childhood haunts and playing with my kids. I've had a chance to finish reading a novel and start another one. A client re-configured assignments, so I've had only e-mails to draw me near to the computer. No deadlines to interfere with my focus on fun.
While the play and fun has helped to revive some of my creativity, staying in a place that is not conducive for writing for more than a week has dulled my writing abilities.
I have always had an understanding about how important it is to write regularly, but because I write regularly, I rarely have had a chance to test that understanding.
Now I have.
My writing muscles feel sluggish. My brain feels slushy.
I'm enjoying my vacation, but writing this post is making me realize how I may have to start exercising my writing muscles before returning home.
Otherwise, I may need a to take a writing vacation once I'm back from my family vacation.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. When she is not on vacation, Elizabeth contributes to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

 

Your (Christmas tree) fiction process

As many writers have pointed out, sticking to a routine and writing every day at a set time and letting yourself just write makes you more apt to come into contact with your inner self, your unconscious self.
In the spirit of the holidays, is your self--as it is set out on the page--a spare, seemingly unloved, basic Christmas tree with a few lights and fewer ornaments? Or are you one of those Christmas tree loaded with colorful blinking lights and enough ornaments to have sent Charlie Brown's petite Christmas tree into a state of shock? Or do you find yourself to be a cross-section of both, depending on the day or time of day?
For me, I find that I tend to edit as I write, ending up with a basic tree with a few ornaments. Fortunately, I think my inner editor replaces my inner critic. Generally, I spend time formulating in my head and then getting the idea on the page, but often I hesitate over the keys, contemplating the word before I press each letter. Thinking twice as I begin a sentence, visualizing where it will take me.
I had a professor who, if I remember correctly, characterized fiction writers in two groups based on drafts' needs: putter-inners and taker-outers. I'm a putter-inner. I write the bare bones and need to put-in more, decorating each bough with more ornaments or tinsel as I review each draft. Frequently, when I end up with a spare tree of a fiction piece, I sometimes envy the taker-outers. Although they need to take out, their tree is lushly decorated.
So, are you a putter-inner or a taker-outer?

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and creativity coach. Besides contributing to AOL's ParentDish, she blogs at The Write Elizabeth, delving into creativity in everyday places. She is looking forward to sharing the Peanuts' Christmas special with her kids, as well as the Heat Miser song.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

 

I really, really don't mean to do it

I really, really don't mean to push my deadlines to within minutes of, uh, well, their deadlines. But sometimes, things just happen that way.
Last week, I was inundated with the annual family visit. (The pleasure and curse of living in a coastal town...a gathering of 31 in various locations around the beach.) The week before, I had incredibly good intentions that were washed aside as I landed on a half dozen calls for various projects.
All I wanted to do was sit down to write.
With deadlines looming ahead, I was trying to write long before my articles were due. Generally, I try to build a bit of cushion so I don't feel anxious and in a rush about my writing. My interviews were mostly done. Alas, with the pressure building as if in a popcorn popper, I flitted about on business call after phone call the days before the onslaught of relatives.
In Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching, we encourage people to take small steps. That Friday, I was lucky if I could even consider any small actions. But, before I fell asleep that night, I had made a list...a list of all that I needed to do (which probably used up a good 50 words that might have made it into one of the stories I needed to write). But I took my list into my week of vacationing revelers and made progress, trying to write each morning before everyone woke. It was progress, albeit small progress.
A colleague once gave me a magnet with the Douglas Adams quote: "I love deadlines. I love the wooshing sound they make as they fly by." I've never enjoyed the whoosh, so I tend to get my articles written on time. But every so often, I need to release some of the built up steam. And ask for an extension. Last week, I did that a couple days in advance of the deadline--and asked for a couple extra days. It was granted.
The articles are now written and turned in. But my to-do list still looks longer than a novella.
But, day by day, word by word and small step by small step, I'm making progress.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a certified Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach and freelance writer. She also blogs at CoastalCarolinaMoms.com and TheWriteElizabeth.com, where she contemplates finding creativity...and time to write!...each day.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

 

When do you do your best writing?

I had the pleasure of traveling to BlissDom09 in Nashville over the weekend--a conference of more than 300 bloggers. The keynote address was given by Jen Lancaster, who has her fourth memoir coming out in May.
She has a wicked sense of humor, a contagious laugh and I enjoyed her talk immensely. And I know I probably would have even if I hadn't been sitting next to one of her biggest fans (if not her biggest fan).
Often I bemoan the fact that I don't always have all the time I would like to follow my creative work to its completion. (How many of us have ideas scrawled on grocery lists or on notepaper tucked in as a bookmark?)
I have a children's book that moves higher up the pile of my creative work, only to push all the other ideas and creative work down. And that is just one pile.
Listening to Jen Lancaster convinced me I need to follow through and (again) set attainable goals. Amazingly, she convinced me of this even as she admitted to having a marathon writing session in the months leading up to her deadlines--8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for weeks on end. Mind you, I don't have the publishing contract(s) yet, but certainly honoring the creative work is one big step towards moving the book up the pile--or something else and spending even an extra 15 minutes on it.
She mentioned that, according to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers, it is a lot of hard work, amassing up to 10,000 hours to become good at something. It is not going to be your talent that guarantees your success, but spending time at your craft and celebrating that you get to do it. Even if it is just a few extra minutes a day.
Celebrating your craft--what a fantastic way to celebrate you!

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a creativity coach and the moderator/main blogger for CoastalCarolinaMoms.com. She is also a freelance writer, columnist and blogs for wilmaville.com. She knows she needs a couple extra minutes each day to spend creatively, but she's been enjoying the energizing company of the BlissDom and WOW! women.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

 

Clearing Your To-Do List...and Your Mind

by LuAnn Schindler

If you are like me, you keep a mental list of everything you need to accomplish. As each day passes, you cross off those items you've taken care of and then the cycle begins again as you add more to-dos. Some of the items on the list are short-term solutions; others might include long-term goals.

I keep my to-do-list on my computer (thanks Vista and Google applications). It's one of the first things I look at in the morning, and I review it every evening before I shut down (literally AND figuratively). The list keeps me on track toward the bigger goals I've established for myself.

Why do I have an easier time developing new ideas? I think it is because I DO write down my to-do list. When you simply think about a potential list of events, articles, and deadlines, your mind draws energy to keep the list fresh. Writing down the bones of the day frees up space in my natural hard drive - my brain.

The same premise works when you consider long-term projects. I use the same technique when I'm preparing for interviews. I write pertinent questions, which allows me to spiderweb my thoughts into even more questions.

I also journal every day. When my fateful day comes, my children will have volumes to read. I hope they enjoy it. But one of the qualities of journaling that I truly enjoy is that once a thought has gone from brain to pen to paper and I've had the opportunity to vent or share joy, the thoughts usually are wiped away. Creative thought continues to develop.

And that is what writing is all about - creating new venues of thought that challenge your creativity. Clearing those thoughts - the to-do list, the grocery list, the character sketch, the new line of a poem you've been working on for days - and putting those words on paper open the path for new ideas, new characters, new stories.

That's the heart of writing.

And I can cross this blog post off my "to-do" list and open the neural pathway to creativity.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

 

Are You Setting Yourself Up To Procrastinate?

Although written to help those with academic writing goals, such as dissertations, theses, and publishing, the ideas in this article apply to the rest of us too. Read on to find out an easy and painless way to increase your writing output. I related to many of the excuses, but I'll try it if you will!

--MP



"How can I stop procrastinating?"

This is by far the most frequent question that I get from graduate students and professors. As a dissertation and tenure coach, I’ve come to realize that everyone in academia, whether writing a dissertation, completing an article, or doing research, struggles with procrastination. Why is this so prevalent in such a well-educated, intelligent population?

You've Got the Wrong Attitude

Your belief system is what may be standing in the way. Most academics cling to the belief that they must set aside large chunks of time, do a lot of preparation, and be in the proper frame of mind to be able to write.

What this means is that when you finally sit down to write, it's going to be an unpleasant marathon. You have placed such importance on this writing session that you feel anxiety about it living up to your expectations. And you know it's going to be difficult. After all, there are thorny issues you haven't addressed, articles you haven't read or reread, and a lack of coherence to your thinking. You need to solve those problems. And if you don't do it now you'll be quite disappointed in yourself.

How unpleasant! And how counterproductive!

What Should You Believe Instead? Or "Oh, The Irony!"

Research by Robert Boyce actually shows that first and second-year professors who participated in a study on writing productivity were able to turn out more publishable pages in a year by

• Writing 30 minutes a day
• Only writing on workdays
• Shoehorning that writing into small gaps in their busy schedules

The difficult part, it turns out, was convincing these professors to try this low-key method in the first place. Ironically, they all insisted that the only way to get real work done was to do it in the marathon way that I described above.

The second irony was that when Boyce actually measured the amount that they were writing per week (before the intervention,) it was less than 30 minutes per week! This was much less than their retrospective reports of how much time they had been spending writing.

The third irony was that those who most adhered to the idea that you must write in large doses were the least productive.

The fourth irony was that although these professors considered writing a private activity, they did best when they were accountable to someone for maintaining their 30-minute writing habit.

Do It Already!


So what's stopping you from learning from these professors and writing a small amount each day?

Here are typical excuses:

• It's just not rewarding writing in small amounts. I feel like I've gotten nothing accomplished.
• I have a big issue to work out. It will take more time than 30 minutes.
• I feel guilty if I don't work more each time.
• I'll never complete my dissertation/paper/research project at that pace.
• I've waited until it's too late and I can't afford the luxury of that small amount of time per day.
• It just doesn't feel right.
• I've got more time than that, I should be putting all my time to good use.
• It's so overwhelming that I don't know where to start, and by the time I figure it out my 30 minutes will be up.

My answer to those responses? Bull! Except for the emergency deadline, there is no reason not to try this technique. Give it time to see if it works for you. If you're like every other academic I've worked with, you will resist the idea. I suggest that the more resistant you are, the more problem you've probably had with procrastination in the past.

An Action Plan

Try it for a week. Select a time each day, preferably not the evening unless you're a night owl, and write for 30 minutes, without email, reading or other distractions. Don't listen to the voices in your head saying you "should be getting more done," or "you should be writing more than this." I'll bet at the end of the week you'll be pleasantly surprised at your output, and pleased with the increasing ease with which you can sit down to write. You’ll start to see progress on your dissertation or article and maybe come to believe that you will finish one day.

Furthermore, don't forget about being accountable to someone. Let someone else know that you're going to be doing daily writing. Perhaps you can find a writing buddy, or someone in your dissertation group. Or join one of my coaching groups – our listservs allow for lots of accountability during the week! My membership site, CafeAcademia.com (stay tuned,) will have a place for finding writing buddies.

Don't forget, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. Start setting yourself up for success starting right now!

© Gina Hiatt, PhD. Gina is a dissertation and tenure coach. She helps academics, from grad students wondering about their dissertation topic to faculty members who want to maintain a high level of research and writing, to reach their goals more quickly and less painfully. Get Gina's free assessments & ezine at http://www.academicladder.com

source: www.Isnare.com

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