Seven-Day Challenge: Write a Story Each Day

9 03 2010

Ok, time to get serious now, folks. Time to stop frakkin’ around and spending my writing time blabbering in my journal or waxing philosophical about books or the careers of other writers. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that, but my fiction writing is never going to get done if I never, well, DO IT. Nike’s right, and so are all the writing teachers and buddies I’ve ever had who would keep encouraging me to ‘just write’. Because reading about writing or talking about writing can never replace the most important act of a writer—to write!

So I’m giving myself a personal kick-in-the-butt challenge, and I’m making this a public commitment to you so that I will (hopefully) follow through on it. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog, to hold myself accountable to something larger than myself, even just symbolically, so that I wouldn’t backslide into unproductive patterns of not-writing or (even worse) coming down on myself for not writing. This blog’s purpose is to keep me writing, and to keep you posted on my writing life in order to connect with you, but also to keep me motivated to keep going. Writing can be such a solitary and lonely practice, and I need all the help and support I can get.

Ok, so here’s the challenge—partially inspired by the challenge I put out to my friends on Facebook not long ago, to write a short short story in their status updates, which I’m glad to say several friends did—I am going to write a short story of any length (and I mean any length—like if I can tell the story in five words then it’s all good!), one per day, for the next seven days. I will start with today (Tuesday, March 9, 2010) and end next Monday (March 15, 2010). The purpose of this kick-start exercise is two-fold: one, to get me back into the practice of writing; and two, to help me hone my storytelling skills so that I can finish some of the fiction pieces I’ve been working on and get them out into the world. This challenge is also partially inspired by a workshop with Ana Menendez that I wish I could take at the Centrum Writers’ Conference in lovely Port Townsend. Ana’s workshop is going to do what she calls a “Van Gogh Story Marathon” and write a story a day, with the knowledge that even a master of craft like Van Gogh started out with terrible paintings, and through practice, practice and more practice, was able to improve and become one of the most celebrated artists of all time.

Unfortunately, as much as I love Port Townsend, where I spent a fair amount of time last year during my Windcall retreat, I don’t think I’ll have the funds to make it to the conference this year. So this seven-day challenge will be my own homegrown version of Ms. Menendez’ marathon. The stories all need to have a beginning, middle and an end, and I’ll be focusing on completing a narrative arc, as small as it may be, in each piece. They don’t have to be perfect or even that good (and most often will not be). The point is to write something, finish it, and post for public consumption.

I will post my first story by the end of the day, and would love any and all feedback on it once I do. Wish me luck! And if you’re so inspired and need a kick-in-the-pants exercise like this to get your writing going, please feel free to join me in my challenge. Write away!


Getting Back on Track

17 02 2010

I’ve not been 100% well this last week or so, which has made it challenging to stay on track with my writing. I took a break from blogging (which I’m glad I did), but am back to doing that, with posts on this and my other blog that both got a considerable number of hits thanks to (I think) catchy, intriguing titles that I post on both my Facebook page and Twitter.

But I haven’t really written anything in terms of my fiction or more creative work since last Thursday, when I was trying to get ready for the reading I was supposed to do with the rest of my writing group in San Francisco. Due to my health problems, I missed that, and have been in a bit of a writing funk ever since. This isn’t just about rest as part of my writing process, as I wrote about earlier, but I think it’s sort of like writer’s depression. I missed my writing date earlier this week, and have mostly been staying home resting and trying to get better, and feeling a bit crappy about myself for not being able to do more. Writing, of course, doesn’t take a ton of physical energy, and I’ve been able to blog so I should be able to do other kinds of writing, but I’m just feeling a block around it.

I haven’t been reading a lot either, despite my book-organizing round that I wrote about last post. I think I just need to plunk down today and tell myself to write anything for 15 minutes, and just stop guilt-tripping myself about it. Guilt doesn’t usually get me anywhere in terms of my writing—just saps the energy that I need to sit down with the page and start moving my hand, as Natalie Goldberg says.

And this really was one of the reasons I started this blog—to help me process through both the tough and the easy times in my writing life. To motivate me to get my hand moving by making me accountable to an audience—no matter how small at this point—who will be, in my mind, tracking what I do and asking me questions about it when I see them in person. So I guess I am making guilt my motivator again, and it does seem to work at times. I would like to find other, more positive emotions to help motivate me to write. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Will post later on today about how many words I’ve written today that are not blog-related. Wish me luck!

Time to Write, Part II: Deadlines as Lifelines

30 01 2010

I’ve been feeling stressed but also blessed these last few days—and feeling more like a ‘real’ writer than I have in a while. I’ve been writing for, literally, hours each day, and there’s nothing like actually writing and producing work that you know some people are going to read (or that you’re going to read out loud, as I am on February 11th) to make you feel like your writing really matters.

I’ve also been logging a lot of hours writing grant proposals and reports for Generations Ahead, a cutting-edge organization working to make sure that the new genetic technologies are being used in an ethical and socially just way. I feel honored to write for them, as they’re doing important work that no one else really does, and it’s fascinating (and sometimes scary) stuff.

I’ve also been working to meet two important deadlines for my creative writing: an application to the Macondo Workshop, a program started by Sandra Cisneros. It’s a pretty competitive program, only eight people get in every year, but it sounds right up my alley. I submitted my application on Wednesday—wish me luck!

The other deadline I’ve been working on (and need to meet this weekend) is for a writing residency at Blue Mountain Center in the Adirondacks. I’ve been there once before and it’s a beautiful place—and I’ve realized that I need large blocks of uninterrupted time to really get deep into my writing.

All these deadlines, while stressful if I let them get to me, have also motivated me to get all this writing done. I’ve been editing like crazy, combing through my work with a fine-tooth comb until I feel like I’m getting cross-eyed, and getting feedback from some of my writer friends, which has only made my writing stronger. My experience as a fundraiser with all those grant deadlines has helped me recognize that these deadlines can really be lifelines—helping me get off my butt and away from the Internet and TV, and helping me get to writing.

So if you need to figure out how to give yourself more time to write, give yourself some deadlines. Better yet, to make sure you won’t just keep changing the deadlines to accommodate the rest of your life—which I often do when I set my own deadlines—commit to meeting a deadline for a writing contest, a fellowship program, workshop, or a writing group. This means making your intention to write public, and committing to someone other than yourself to give your writing to them to read. This is a good thing, although it can be scary at first.

This is how deadlines can really be lifelines—because they give life to our writerly intentions, cut through procrastination, force us to focus, and help us realize our own goals. And then, when you’re done with all your deadlines (as I will be by next Tuesday), you can kick back and take a little vacation from writing—and watch all the DVDs or read all the trashy novels you want—until the next deadline comes along.

The Usefulness of Procrastination

22 01 2010

Today, I’m not really blocked but I’m not exactly riding the wave either. It’s more like I’m waiting for a good one, and just chillin’ and coasting on the water, watching the ocean and wondering when a good one will come rolling in.

Which, of course, could be called ‘waiting for the muse’, but really is just one form of procrastination. I’m not going to beat myself up about this, because we all do it, and sometimes it’s actually helpful NOT to write….sometimes. And it’s the sometimes part that’s tricky to learn about and balance.

Sometimes procrastination is helpful because it gets me out of my head and makes me do something seemingly unrelated to my writing–like going to cook a dish I’ve been wanting to make or taking a walk. When I go do those things, it sometimes triggers something in my body/mind–a motion I make when I’m cooking, an image I come across on my walk–that inspires me to go back to my computer and start typing again. It may be something that reminds me of the story or piece I’m working on. In those cases, what started out as procrastination or just needing a break become a catalyst for a good idea that gets incorporated into my writing. This is where I know that what seems like procrastination is actually part of what artists call ‘process’–how access the stories, images and voices inside my head and get them down on the page.

And then there are other times, more numerous, when I just want to stop writing because it feels too hard–I’m stuck on a scene that’s just coming out all corny and dumb, or I just can’t think of anything to write that interests me–and go shopping, get on Facebook, do work, or play online Scrabble (which I’m doing right now, by the way, while I’m writing this post). These particular activities don’t usually lead to writerly revelations–although I tell myself that playing Scrabble helps build my vocabulary (really, it does!)–so I’ve realized it’s best to try to avoid them.

And then, sometimes, I really do just need a break. My brain is tired and I’m not going to get anything out of it if I keep sitting here trying to write–except a raging migraine. But the hard (and often frustrating, but also weirdly delightful) part of the writing process is that, when I step away from my keyboard and go do something else, I’m not quite sure why I’m doing it or where it will lead. Maybe I’ll get some big burst of inspiration, maybe I’ll just get some rest for my weary (or more often than not, lazy) brain, or maybe I’ll get neither.

In the end, the work is always there, waiting for me to take it up again. And in the end, no one else can do it but me. That thought is enough to make anyone want to go shopping instead.

Riding the Wave (or, Glad to Not Have Writer’s Block Right Now)

20 01 2010

There are rare moments for me as a writer (and for many writers, from what I’ve heard/read), when your writing flows more smoothly than usual, when you can’t wait to sit down and start your hands moving, when you feel like writing is one of those things you will never stop doing. You actually enjoy the writing, even when it’s not coming out perfect–you enjoy the act in and of itself.

I feel fortunate to be having that feeling right now–yesterday and today. And good thing too, because I’m on deadline–actually, two deadlines–right now. I’m trying to finish up the application essays and my manuscript submissions for the Macondo Workshop, Sandra Cisnero’s annual writers’ workshop, and Blue Mountain Center’s residency, which takes place at a beautiful retreat house in the Adirondacks.

I’m not a particularly prolific writer–the combination of my often-annoying but sometimes useful perfectionism and my propensity towards distraction by work, house chores, my husband, whatever whatever, for hours on end being the cause–so I find these moments to be precious. I gotta milk them for all their worth. And obviously, when I have things I absolutely have to get done because of deadlines (I’ve tried to come up with less morbid, more positive terms, but ‘deadlines’ just works for me), it helps not to be blocked.

But is it the deadline that somehow breaks through my writer’s block? Or is it the fact that this blog and the other one that I started in the past week have helped me cut through some of my usual resistance to sitting down and typing? Who knows? I’m not going to question it, I’m just going to go with the flow and hope it takes me in the direction that I want to go.

And gets me to meet those deadlines!