Back to Europe, Bye-Bye Coffee, Resolutions & Current Projects

After two days of traveling (we couldn’t come home right away because we had a class to teach in a large nearby city), we are home, sweet home! Ahhhh…. Yes! Funny enough, this morning I was dreaming that I was back at my parent’s house, waking up and getting ready to pack. When I finally woke up, I was beyond relieved. (Not to be away from my family, but that we didn’t have to start the long and grueling packing/traveling process.)

I’m a little jet-lagged, but that’s not the cause of my dull headache. In the midst of the moment, I made a bet that I could quit drinking coffee for three months! (WHAT WAS I THINKING???) So I’m on day one and fortunately, because I’m jet-lagged, I’m sleeping through most of it. I’ve been drinking coffee since I was two years old (Mom used to give us a tiny amount of coffee with milk and sugar — but hey, still coffee) and it is part of my being at this point. However, I know I drink waaayyyy too much so I’m embracing this 90 days and hoping that it will spark an overhaul with my health, too. I am quite healthy, but could definitely lose a few and make better choices with food. Kinda hard to do when the day starts with 3+ cups of coffee and enough cream and sugar to make my large dark roast taste like it did when I was two!

Wish me luck!

In other news, now that we’re well into January, I need to put my NY resolutions down, since 1) need to see it written in stone, 2) I haven’t made resolutions in a long time (I used to be obsessed with NY resolutions and would always stay home on NYE and write them out… in my new journal) so I want this moment documented, and 3) I can check back here in December and hopefully check them all off!

2016 Resolutions (related to writing!)

  1. Read 50 books this year. This comes out to about a book per week… realistic goal, I think. I already read a lot, but much of my reading in the last few years has been research for my novel, so this goal will be more about reading for pleasure, not just material for my book (which is also for pleasure, but you get the picture).
  2. To keep a daily gratitude journal. I have done this before and can say from experience that one of the most transformative times in my life occurred while keeping a gratitude journal. If you choose over and over to see the good in your life and world, you sorta just start seeing it ALL. the. time! It’s amazing. And not just in terms of what you get from the experience, but grateful people are generous people and I found it amazing how my capacity to give grew and grew and grew. So everyday, I’ll be writing this gratitude list. (And yes, I already have logged 10 days.)
  3. To complete the website building project (we’re building passive income sites) with my friend (I’m writing all of the content — lots and lots of content!) by May 1st. Big goal, but we can do it!
  4. To take two writing classes this year. It will probably be online since I live in a small European village that doesn’t have writing classes, but there are some awesome online courses that I’ve had my eye on for a while. I’ll probably take the first one this summer, after I complete the web project with my friend.
  5. FINISH MY NOVEL. As I’ve mentioned here, I need to finish this guy. And since I feel the love and feeling coming back for this project, I know it’s time to seize the moment. While I’ve been writing it leisurely in the late evenings, after May 1st, it’s all go until it’s done. YES!!!

And unrelated to writing:

  1. To complete my 90 days of no coffee (AHHHHHHHHH!!!!) seriously, I would love to be a “weekend coffee drinker” (do you have any idea how amazing coffee tastes when you don’t have it all day long? Ammmmaaaazzziiinnngggg), but it will take some discipline to get there. I’m up for it!
  2. To get into great health and shape. Last year was the first year of my life when I wasn’t active. At all. So this year, I’m going to rediscover that part of myself. I’ll get my fuel from good whole foods and exercise, not coffee and sweets! And no matter how exciting the writing is that day, I’ll get out of my chair and workout. I will, I will, I will!

There are several other, more personal ones that I think I’ll keep to myself, but those are the ones related to writing (yes, coffee is definitely related to writing!).

Writing News:

These days I’m writing content, content, content for the web project (passive income sites) I’m doing with my friend. I also picked up another job managing social media for a small business. I design and write their newsletters and make all the graphics for their Instagram account. It’s actually a lot of fun! I’m still writing, but it’s very little in comparison to the other stuff I’m doing and I get to be super creative with designing graphics — which I LOVE. It’s a nice “break” in my writing day! Each month I make an editorial calendar and that works very well for me (kinda like an outline). I have another side project of redesigning another friend’s website and rewriting all of her content. I plan to be finished with it this month. And I also write part-time for two content companies. This has been great experience for me. I will keep writing for them until the web project I’m doing with my friend takes off. Then, I’ll back away from those two. They pay, which is great, so for now it’s perfect. In the late evenings, I write my novel. Not everyday, but most, which makes me very happy!  More

Ch. 3: Your Book Starts Here (Developing a Writing Practice)

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. --T.S. Elliot

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. –T.S. Elliot

To continue reading this post on my new site, click here.

I’ve been traveling a lot and starting a new side business and, well, basically I’ve watched the good writing practice that I did have plummet to the depths of nowhere. Am I still a writer? In my world, stress is a creativity killer and I’ve had way to much of it so I haven’t even had time to stop and think about how I feel these days, much less write!

I don’t just need a new writing practice, I need one. Period.  (Trumpets start, and entering from the wings: Chapter 3 of Your Book Starts Here, Developing a Writing Practice.) Hello, good timing. Welcome. You can have center stage. (In case you missed it, here’s where you can find my posts about chapter 1 and chapter 2.)

So let’s jump in.

Wise Words from Author Mary Carroll Moore

“Few books arrive fully formed,” writes Mary Carroll Moore, and it “takes the same everyday hard work that tennis players put in practicing their volleys, violinists their scale.”

Ah yes. Discipline. Repetition. Those same small steps day in and day out are the ones that lead to huge changes. After all, take your teeth for instance. You spend those 2+ minutes in the morning, and again at night, and 30 or 40 years down the road you’re not paying for fillings and root canals and gum disease treatments. Same with writing. Even 15 minutes a day could produce a book within a year.

The Professional Writer’s Schedule

Professional Writer's Schedule

Professional Writer’s Schedule

One of my absolute favorite books on writing (and a most enjoyable read!) is Stephen King’s On WritingMoore also recommends it and writes that to find the professional writer’s schedule, we need to:

  1. let go of expectations
  2. find the joy
  3. find the practice (the key!)

Experiment

One exercise she gives is to EXPERIMENT with writing times and locations over the course of 1 week and while I think this is a great idea, I’m traveling so much over the next few months and won’t be in one space long enough to figure out if it’s the best writing space for me. I will, however, take note of places I write and the time of day when I catch that creative wave. 🙂 Today, I downloaded the app Jiffy for this very reason. It’s AWESOME and you can read more about it below.

Finding Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record

Side Note from Your Book Starts Here: Some of my favorite articles about productivity for writers are by author Susan Dennard (who wrote the lovely Something Strange and Deadly series). It’s really worth spending some time with these articles if you are 1) looking to be more productive with your writing, and 2) want to develop the habits that will set you up for success. You can find her introduction to the Productivity Pyramid here. From there you can find links to further breakdowns of her pyramid: Ritual, Routine, Rhythm, Realism and Record.

I discovered this pyramid back in January and found Ritual and Routine to be particularly helpful with setting up new habits and perimeters in my writing schedule. I had just moved halfway around the world and finding routines and rituals anchored me in my new home! I went from not being focused at all, to having a daily routine which included: morning contemplation, making coffee and opening the laptop by 7 AM, and excluding ALL connection with the outside world during my two morning writing stints. No emailing, social media or checking-of-thy-computer until lunch time every day. It was weird at first. I didn’t realize that for the last bazillion years I was in the ritual of checking messages on my phone before my second eye opened. But, I started leaving my phone charging downstairs and that helped me break the habit. And I have to tell ya, waiting until lunchtime to check messages is fun! Remember when getting emails was fun? Well, when you don’t check them every minute or two, it is really fun. Anywho, my morning routine became 2 writing sessions of 90 minutes each, with a 30 minute break in between them. I can’t recommend the system enough. It was a life changer! And since I’m traveling so much over the next few months and back to having no ritual and routine these days, I’m going to refresh them myself and see if I can find some good practices in the midst of the chaos!

And if you do find that you want to explore the Productivity Pyramid a little more and learn
about when you’re most creative, check out this amazing app called Jiffy. I just started tracking my productivity today with it. Basically, you can put all of your projects (or anything you spend time on) in the app and each has their own timer. So at the end of the day (or week, month, year, etc.), you can see where your time went. I’m curious to see if I’m meeting my goals on some projects that I’m involved in and learn what times of the day I work on different things.

Finding a Rhythm with 10 Minutes a Day

As Moore says, there are different ways to gauge our practice. Time of day or meeting a certain word count, as Ernest Hemingway did, are a couple of ways. It’s all about finding your own rhythm and we all have different ways of finding it.

As Moore says, “Finding your rhythm and honoring your practice will slowly grow your confidence in your commitment to your craft.”

So, trusting ourselves and the writing practice we’ve committed to = delivering successful results = gaining stamina = momentum. And once the momentum happens, a finished product is within sight!

Moore says to start small. Even 10 minutes a day for the first couple of weeks can build the trust we need in ourselves to establish a good practice.

10 minutes.

Many years ago I heard a nutrition expert speak about the importance of exercising daily, to which I thought, realllllllyyy… everyday??? To which he said oh yes, everyday. BUT the clincher was that you didn’t have to kill yourself everyday with hours of exercise. It’s about developing the habit. He said that even walking a half hour every morning would be nearly 4 hours at the end of the week, which adds up to more than 200 hours of exercise at the end of the year. That is guarenteed to change your life! Much like starting with that 10 minutes of writing a day.

Moore goes on to discuss the common sabotages of a good writing practice and even exercises for discovering them and fixing it. She also gets into the healthy aspect of writing and how we can recognize this transformation in our own characters. Good stuff!

Starting a Writing Practice

My favorite exercise from the book is this: Start a Writing Practice by writing for 10 minutes everyday for the next three weeks. Pick a time and commit to writing for 10 minutes during that time every day. 10 minutes x 3 weeks = 3.5 hours! Yes, I can do this. Here’s the breakdown:

Week 1: freewrites

Week 2: (Day 1: free-write list of possible topics for book) (Day 2-7: pick 1 off the list each day and do a free-write about it)

Week 3: blend weeks 1 and 2 by taking a topic and adding observations on things you felt, saw, experienced over the week

That’s all for now. I’ll be pausing here for the next three weeks (but still posting about other things) as I delve into this new writing practice and I’ll share my thoughts along the way. After, I’ll crack open the book and move on to chapter 4: Listening to the Inner Critic.

Do you have thoughts to share about your writing practice? What sets you up for success? Please share in the comments below! 🙂

In case you missed it, I started a Literary Map of New Orleans that marks key spots when the likes of Hemingway, Faulkner and Tennessee Williams wrote, slept and knocked back a few. Check it out here! And drop me a line if you have something to add to it!

Until next time,

Ellie

Articles, Links, Books and Music for Inspiration:

Kissing in the Rain by Patrick Doyle

Love, love love this one! Two Minutes to Four and Reunited (featuring Lana Del Ray)

Death Bed from Beasts of the Southern Wild soundtrack

Pienso en Ti by Shakira (probably my favorite song ever by Shakira, from the Soundtrack to                Love in the Time of Cholera

Another fav: Jake’s First Flight from Avatar

An old favorite: Goa from the Bourne Supremacy movie

The book I’m following through these posts is Your Book Starts Here.

Book I (still) reading and loving: The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

Days 7-13: Camp NaNoWriMo & Staying Creative and Productive

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you're passionate about something, then you're more willing to take risks. - Yo-Yo Ma

Passion is one great force that unleashes creativity, because if you’re passionate about something, then you’re more willing to take risks.
– Yo-Yo Ma

Day 13 of NaNoWriMo!
I’m swimming in it over here. Not quite where I’d like to be, but still moving forward. I know I need to revisit my outline since I’ve wandered into some gray territory, but getting “lost” has done wonders for my creativity and story. Usually when I hit stumbling blocks, I want to run as fast as I can back to my outline and check plot points, etc. But committing to this 50,000 word count for Camp NaNoWriMo has forced me to forget about that and just keep writing. This is a good thing, I think?

On Creativity…
One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is the fine balance of staying creative, staying in the flow. In other words, when the words on the page make me want to quit for the day and pick it back up tomorrow, what helps me to push through and stay committed? I toy with this a lot, but for me, I’ve found that sticking to a certain amount of structure and changing things up seem to be a perfect recipe.

Structure
My mom always told me I was at my best when I stuck to a schedule and I couldn’t agree more. I can kill a day doing everything nothing like no one else. Seeing as I can start making a “quick” playlist for a character, then look up 5 hours later to find I’m still looking for one more perfect song, having some sort of structure to my day not only helps me accomplish more, it invigorates me.  And it’s the only way I can consistently get things done.

Some of the structure I’m talking about here is related to actual time, and the other part is related to accomplishments. I’ll explain…

Creating Structure with Time

Part of my day follows time, or a schedule. Every morning I wake up and spend 20 minutes in silence. This could be meditation for some, prayer for others or contemplating on a character or scene that you’re planning to write that day. It’s my time to get centered, acknowledge what I’m grateful for and dream my day so to speak. Next, I make my coffee for the morning. After that, I bring up Scrivener and open my current writing project. I put on my accompanying playlist and write for 90-120 minutes. After I take a short break for breakfast, then go for another 90+ minutes if I’m planning to have a heavy writing day. On a day calendar it would look like this: More

Aside