Front Porch Writing

 

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My front porch

My husband just built this beautiful front porch. We tore down the old rickety porch – more of a front deck really – and built this from the ground up. The view from the white rocker is gravel road and rolling cornfields – the perfect writing spot, a friend said. Yes.

I hadn’t even thought about the front porch as a writing spot. Since we moved to the country last fall, I’ve been so focused – overwhelmed might be a better description – on the  inside of the neglected 1905 farmhouse that I hadn’t given much thought to what the outside could offer. We writers need a writing “space” and that is different for every writer. I have always had the notion I needed what Virginia Woolf called a “room of her own” with four walls, a door, and all the writing amenities Office Depot could offer: computer, printer, file cabinets, bookcases, message boards, shelves of paper and notebooks and pens – so many pens!

The renovations have taken much longer than I anticipated. My “room of my own” has been a half-hazard mess, up the steepest flight of stairs imaginable, into the coldest (in the winter) to, in mid-July, the now  hottest room in the house. I hated it. Avoided it. My writing, along with my spirit, waned. How could I write without a room! I moaned to my husband.

One project finished, then another, then finally he began the front porch this spring. I wasn’t interested. I had become used to living without using the front door. What did I need it now for? I watched out the front window as he set the  posts, then frame. Tongue and groove boards joined together to make a floor, then white spindle railings and, finally, the hand rail. I had a porch.

I brought back an old white rocker from the Ozark home of my childhood, and knew immediately it was going on the front porch. Once home, I set the rocker down, walked off the porch and to the road in front of our home. I needed a wider angle view of the porch, a different vantage point. I needed to look at the porch in a different way.

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Then my friend, when seeing the white rocker looking out from the covered porch, said, “The perfect place to write!” Of course. Why couldn’t I see that? It didn’t have a computer or printer or bookcases or file cabinets or any of the amenities I thought I needed. It didn’t even have a flower pot yet. Just a simple front porch with an old white rocker. Simple as that.

Writing Prompt:

Do you have a favorite place to write? What makes it special?
Do you think you need a “perfect” place to write? Where do you think you’ll find it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quieting Distractions

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The 4th of July will soon be here, with all the booming noise that often lasts for days on end. Can you tell I’m not a fan? I can’t imagine how pets or war veterans cope. For me, the 4th of July is more an unsettling, nerve-racking distraction. My mother always told me to ignore things that bother me, like loud noises, but I always found that advice ridiculous. How could anyone possibly ignore fireworks exploding right outside their bedroom window? When I was young, my favorite “fireworks” were black snakes and smoke bombs. They didn’t make a sound!

We are surrounded by distractions every day. As I sit here writing, I am distracted by voices outside my work area, the phone, thunder. You would think a mindful writer would learn to shut out the noise, the distractions, but it’s not always so easy. I was just reading a blog post from a fellow writer who was complaining about losing early morning sleep from the loud cacophony of birds outside her window. I adore the chorus of birds, and for me, bird song has never been a distraction, but what is relaxing to one might be noise to others. Sometimes, even the most subtle sounds, the tick of the clock or hum of the refrigerator, are distracting for writers.

One way I have found that works to quiet distractions when I am writing is to actually concentrate on the distraction. It’s the same principle when you’re dieting, and all you can think of is eating that chocolate cake. A dietician will tell you to take just a bite of the chocolate cake to satisfy your craving and not deprive yourself; otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about that chocolate cake. Trying to ignore noise or other distractions will only cause the noise to consume you. Focus on the noise, or whatever distraction is sucking your attention. Once you give it a few moments of your complete focus, take a few minutes to refocus by breathing in and out slowly, do a quick body check, and give yourself back to your writing. Once you are back into your writing, the distractions may still be there, but hopefully it won’t consume your mental energy.

Writing Prompt:

Close your eyes, take a few breaths, and listen. What do you hear? Are the sounds enjoyable, or unpleasant? Do the sounds you hear recall any childhood memories? Focus on one sound, link it to a memory, and tell that story.

 

 

Writing the Past in the Present

Writers, whether they write memoir, fiction or poetry, often find themselves dredging up painful memories of the past. As mindful writers, we know we should focus on the present moment, but it’s difficult for writers to be present when we are through necessity, often living (at least in our heads) in the past. For some – if not most – of us, the past can be a painful place to visit. Sometimes the painful emotions – sadness, anger, sorrow – we felt in the past resurface as we compose our narratives in the present. So how do writers avoid getting stuck in their narrative past?

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Be Fully Present

If you feel yourself falling into the emotions of the past as you write, take note of your body’s response to the emotions that arise. What are you actually feeling in your body? Where are those feelings coming from? What are you seeing, hearing, doing, right now, in the present? Don’t ignore the feelings, emotional or physical, or try to push them down. When the narrative of your past creates uncomfortable feelings in your body, take note, relax, then let them go.

Focus on the Present

It’s easy to get lost in the past when writing, especially when we’re writing memoir. Thinking how you could have done things differently or wishing things were different often serve to bring negative experiences into the present. As you write, remind yourself this is a story from the past. It’s not your reality now. No need to be a victim in the present or bemoan the past. For a reminder, place a big sticky note on your computer with the words, “The past is the past! Write on!

Write Through the Pain

If you have avoided writing on a subject because it is too painful, you may be actually creating anxiety for yourself. Research supports this theory. According to an article in Psychology Today, confronting your fear gives you evidence of your ability to cope. Avoiding the past out of fear that recalling it will bring up uncomfortable emotions will only maintain and magnify the very emotions you are trying to avoid feeling. Confronting your past by writing about it takes the power away from it. Writing will take you through the pain and to the other side where healing can take place.

Remember that even as you write the past, be fully present in the here and now. The past cannot hurt you now unless you let it. If painful emotions surface as you write, take note, feel them, then let them pass. Avoid the urge to avoid feeling. The only way out is through.

Writing Solstice

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The summer solstice will soon be upon us (officially June 21at 5:51am central time). According to astronomy, summer solstice is when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, the longest day of the year. I’ve been looking forward to summer since last November here in Nebraska (and it’s been a bitterly cold winter here). It’s difficult for me to muster much energy in the winter when it’s blowing icicles, so I’m not usually at my most productive during the winter. But just when I’m looking forward to some heat, our Great Plains summers overdo it a bit, and it’s 95 degrees in the shade with a million percent humidity, zapping any energy I’ve mustered. Even when I try to schedule in a day of writing, sometimes my lethargic brain just doesn’t want to cooperate with my ambition.

But solstice also can be defined as a “turning point.” As practicing writers, sometimes we come to a solstice, or turning point, in our writing practice. This is a good time of year to reflect on our practice, to decide if it’s working for us, and to refocus if it’s not.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to motivating oneself to write. The first school believes you absolutely must write every day, no matter what, if you want to call yourself a writer. The other school of thought believes that trying to force writing can have negative consequences, possibly even writer’s block. I’m not sure I accept either. The more I attempt to instill mindfulness practices into my life, the more forgiving I have become of not living up to other’s expectations, and one of those expectations is that to be a writer, you have to write every day. However, I also believe that there is something to showing up.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

Showing up means putting in the time and work, whether you are actually getting words down on paper or not. When I have a particularly bad day, feeling lethargic and uninspired, reading always works to motivate me. I love reading short stories or essays when I’m writing, as they are not too long to take me away from the work at hand, but long enough to inspire.

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”― Ernest Hemingway

I am also a planner, and when I get stuck, I have usually run out of plan and need to pause and regroup, before moving forward with my writing. And like Ernest Hemingway, who always stopped his writing at the end of the day in the middle of a scene where he could easily pick up the next day, try ending your writing day on an upswing of inspiration, so you’ll know exactly how you want to pick up the next day.

Trying to force yourself to write when you are tired or not feeling well might eventually lead you to hate writing, and we don’t want that. Take a break if you feel you need one - and don’t beat yourself up for taking a break! You might just need time to rest, refocus, and refresh the well, through whatever means that works for you.

Happy solstice :)

 

What Are You Afraid Of?

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“What Are You Afraid Of?” is the title of the first chapter in one of my favorite self-help books, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. You may be living in fear, and you don’t even realize it. I’m not talking about spiders or snakes or vampires. I’m talking about fears that hold us back in our life pursuits, dreams or goals. I’ve come across many people who, when I tell them I write, say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write, but I don’t think I’m good enough, or smart enough, or young enough, or old enough, or educated enough, or – fill-in-the-blank enough.” Sound familiar?

All of these excuses for avoiding writing are based in fear. Fear can be powerful, and it can take some hard work to overcome. Let’s take a deeper look at some writers’ fear-based ways of thinking.

Kathy has always wanted to write, but she believes she is too old to start at mid-life. We could say this belief is based in ego – the fear of embarrassment. Kathy doesn’t want to risk being the oldest writer in a writing group, or the oldest student in a workshop. What Kathy doesn’t realize is that she might have the life experience and knowledge that younger writers don’t, but by avoiding writing out of fear, she’ll never find out.

Kevin has been writing for a while. He has mounds of finished essays and even book manuscripts, but they are all sitting in drawers and file cabinets. Kevin hasn’t submitted anything for publication or tried to get a publisher for his books because he doesn’t think his work is good enough. In the middle of writing, he’s optimistic and positive, but by the time he’s finished, his confidence ends with the final period. Kevin’s fear of failure is holding him back. He’s not willing to risk getting his work rejected, so he doesn’t put anything out there.

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Everyone should be living in fear. Why? We are supposed to feel fear if we are taking risks and growing. We either risk and grow, or stagnate and rot. Fear isn’t a bad thing; it’s proof that you are reaching for something, that you have dreams you are working to achieve, that you are taking responsibility for your life and happiness.

Exercise: What is holding you back in your writing? Make a list of the obstacles you are facing in creating the writing life you desire.

What are some specific actions you can take to overcome these obstacles? How can you feel the fear – and do it anyway?

 

Click here to visit Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.

The Write Time

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Most writers, when asked what is the biggest hurdle they face as a writer, will say “time.” When I teach my Mindful Writing workshops, the majority of the feedback I get is that participants most appreciated having the dedicated time to write. Why is it that in an age when technology has given us so many time-saving devices, that we complain more than ever about having no time?

Take a normal 24 hour weekday, and consider how you use your time. Hopefully, you get a good 8 hours of sleep a night. Maybe you’ll take 3 hours for nice, leisurely meals. If you work full-time, maybe that’s another 9 hours a day including a commute. So far, that’s 20 hours. That leaves 4 hours in your weekday of disposable time. Many of us have family obligations, leisure activities, and social commitments that take up our “off” time.  That’s just an average weekday. How do you spend your time on the weekends?

Everyone, including prolific writers who crank out a book every year or two, and you and I, have the same amount of time in our days. The amount of time in a day never changes. It is the one constant – 24 hours. Successful writers make time to write. It’s that simple. They consider their 24 hours and slice out their writing time. Everyone has different obligations. Some successful writers are stay-at-home moms with kids tugging at their shirt. Some successful writers work a full 8-hour day. Still other successful writers are taking care of aging parents or have other obligations that take up their time. But successful writers still write. Why? Or a better question perhaps is, HOW?

Successful writers don’t look at their schedule and take what is left for their writing, and if nothing is left, have no time to write. Successful writers make their writing a priority. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone should write every day – of course, the ideal. But if you honestly look at how you spend your time, look at what is mandatory and what you are taking on that is voluntary. Sage Cohen, author of The Productive Writer, says that “. . . your relationship with time is not something that happens to you but a dynamic orchestrated by you through dozens of large and small choices you make every day. . .”.

Making writing a priority looks different for everyone. Every person has to find what works for them and their personalities. Consider what is your best time of day or day/days of the week to write. For me, it’s takes a while to settle my mind and get going, so I need a chunk of time, say 4 hours, to write creatively. I write my blogs with any chunk of time and space I can get, but if I’m working on my memoir, I need larger chunks of time.

Cohen says that we are not given time to write; we take it. This might mean you’ll have to make some choices. But if you want writing to be a priority, then give it the time it deserves.

Jump Start Your Writing

1. If you don’t use one, invest in a small appointment book. Look at your schedule each week and write down an appointment to write.

2. Keep your appointment.

What is your Story?

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I recently read that on average, we think about 60,000 thoughts a day. That is a lot of thoughts! Unfortunately, 95% of those are the very same thoughts we already had yesterday and the day before!

Think for a moment about your thoughts in relation to writing. How many of those 60,000 thoughts that ramble around in your head every day are telling you that you shouldn’t be writing? Has someone once told you that writing is fine for a hobby, but not a vocation? Do you think that you’d like to write more, but it’s not “practical”? Are some of those thoughts grounded in fear, perhaps that you’re not good enough, or young enough, or smart enough, or whatever enough to follow your desires to write (or insert any other desire)?

What is the story you’ve been telling yourself about writing?

We all carry a lifetime of stories around every day. These stories are often heavy loads. The older we get, the more stories we have, and too often those stories work against us as we struggle to overcome our fears and work towards the fulfillment of our desires. These can be stories told to us in childhood by parents, or siblings, or even well-meaning teachers. Our society places a great amount of emphasis on monetary gain and accumulating material possessions, but has little respect for artistic achievements. You want to work part-time, or not at all, so you can write more? Are you crazy? But that’s not practical! You want to go to a writing retreat for two weeks? That’s so selfish!

Sound familiar?

What drives you to write? How deep is your desire to write? How much does writing define who you are? OR, how much does NOT writing define who you are? If you have a desire to write, or do anything for that matter, you are the only one who can fight for it. It’s up to you to carve out the time and space to write.

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.
Buddhist proverb

Take a step in the direction of your desires. Journal every morning. Write for a few minutes each night. Make a writing appointment with yourself once a week. As you move toward your desire to write, writing will move toward you. Without any movement on your part, you’ll stay stuck where you are. Forget the old stories you’ve been telling yourself. Write a new story.