The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writing exercises

Hi all,

As many of you know I serve as a Trustee on the Board of the North Carolina Writers’ Network. The North Carolina Writers’ Network connects, promotes, and serves the writers of this state. It supports writers at all stages of development. Recently, I was asked to contribute a short piece to our newsletter. I’m sharing it here as it gives you insight into how I found the Network and why I think that are a great place for writers, the importance of literary community and also about my participation in hosting our second “NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet” as well as a new “Shut Up and Write” session during the conference. So, I get to talk about two favorite things in the newsletter–National Novel Writing Month and the Network!

Not a member yet? Check out all the good stuff here.
Joining the Network really did change the trajectory of my writing life.

Not signed up yet for the amazing fall conference happening, Nov 2-4? You’ve got two weeks to go before pre-registration closes! Check out the fantastic line-up of workshops, classes, events and instructors here.

“North Carolina is known for three things, hogs, tobacco, and writers. Since you’re an aspiring writer, I assume you’ll know which community to connect with.” These words were spoken to me by my therapist at the time and I’m forever grateful for them. More than fifteen years ago, I moved to North Carolina and although I had a professional position I loved, other aspects of my life post-move remained challenging. My partner was having a difficult time finding fulfilling work and my creative writing goals had stagnated.  Despite my therapist’s blunt (and a bit exaggerated take on North Carolina’s reputation), I got the point. In this new place, I needed to take action, find like-minded writing folk and investigate North Carolina’s impressive literary history. An aspiring poet, too, my therapist was the first person that told me about the Network and its two annual conferences.

At that time in my life, I was writing metaphorically in the basement. I read lots of craft books, yes. But, I didn’t know any other writers, wasn’t in a writer’s group and so therefore never received productive feedback. I kept rewriting hundreds of pages over and over and was assailed by devious “inner critics”. I was in a kind of literary quicksand. Like many writers, I thought I could (and should) do it all alone.

It took me a few more years to muster up the confidence to attend a Network conference. If you’ve ever been to a NCWN conference you know how dynamic and exciting it is. What energy! What excitement! I felt welcomed. I felt like I belonged. I felt like I had found people I could discuss the joys and challenges of the writing life. No one is an outsider when attending a NCWN conference.

I wasn’t in the basement anymore.

The years have flown by since that first conference. I kept attending them and deepened my craft knowledge, met terrific writers and made friends.  I got to know my wonderful regional rep for Chatham County—Al Manning and also started to attend local writing events. My world is so different now! I’m a trustee deeply committed to the mission of the organization. I now get to welcome members into this literary community.

Given my past of having to battle long periods of creative self-doubt, I’m really passionate about strategies to circumvent inner critics. One of the most fun ways to do that is to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

You’ve probably heard the buzz about it. November is National Novel Writing Month. Amateur and professional writers sign up to write 50,000 words, a short novel, during the month. That is roughly 1,667 words a day. And, yes the draft’s supposed to be rough, need work, and a beautiful mess that yields something amazing later.

NaNoWriMo is for fresh, wild, and fast writing. And, you don’t have to be an aspiring novelist to participate—writers adapt NaNoWriMo for their own needs. NaNoWriMo gets people writing more words than they normally would in a month.

There are many success stories of writers who carefully revised their NaNoWriMo drafts and have made sales of novels (including the bestselling Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough), short-story collections, and other kinds of publications.

But publishing is not the overall point of NaNoWriMo. It is about getting started. It’s about getting some words—any words down that then can turn into good words later.

I’m hosting a NaNoWriMo Meet and Greet on Friday night after the plenary. We’ll gather and talk about goals over wine and refreshments. If you’ve ever been curious about NaNoWriMo, come to this event.

Given the pace of the conference and the lively workshops, plenaries and networking opportunities, most of us don’t get a lot of writing done when attending.  In recognition of this fact, we’re trying out a new session during the conference: Shut up and Write. Shut and Write will offer conference participants a quiet space for writing.

I hope I’ll see you at one or both of these events. And, you can tell me your story about how you found the Network.

 

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“The fruits of the harvest are gathered and stored. The trees shed their leaves and reveal their true forms. The days grow shorter and darker, reminding us of how brief our time on earth really is.  It’s autumn:  a season for reflecting on what it means to be truly alive, and for giving thanks for the gifts an authentic life bestows.”
Alan Jones and John O’Neil, Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude

Although the weather is still warm for many of us, autumn is here and requests our attention. Autumn invites us to reflect on the fruits of our harvest and make sense of a way forward. We know the fallow period of winter is not far away. I love this time of harvesting, gathering and reflecting. Around this time of year, I also find it much easier to reboot my gratitude jar practice if it has fallen off track. Keeping a gratitude jar is like rocket fuel for your creative life. Don’t know what a gratitude jar is or how to fill one up? Here’s my post on this amazing practice.

Here are some writing prompts to feed your creative impulses as you explore the gifts of fall:

-Look at the following two words—autumn and authenticity. What connections between these two words do you sense? (Authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil note that both of these words share the Latin root aut-, meaning “to increase or grow”.)
-What are you harvesting this fall?
-Write about a time when you felt bountiful.
-Write about the bounty of your writing and/or creative life as it is right now.
-Write about what you’re most grateful for.
-Write about what you feel like you should be grateful for, but aren’t.
-Write about the gifts from summer. What came to fruition? What didn’t? What are you letting go of for fall?
-When do you feel the most authentic? Alone? With others? At work? In nature?
-What are your favorite autumn flavors?
-What was a ‘back to school’ ritual that you loved as a child? What rituals do you enact during fall as an adult?

 

 

 

The beginning of September marks change. For many of us, it signals the end of summer and a realization that we’re well into the third quarter of the year. It’s often a time of transition and reflection.

At this point in the season, we usually need a boost for our writing as we make a transition in our schedules. Our schedules shift now for a variety of reasons. For some that means getting kids (or one’s self) off to school, starting a big home project, or squeezing in the last vacation until the winter holidays. Any change in our schedule can interfere with our desire to get creative work done. Also, ongoing summer weather can make us feel lethargic which can translate to how we meet the page.

Here are 3 FUN ways to stay inspired during the last weeks of summer:

  1. Check Out New Writing Podcasts. There are TONS of great podcasts about writing. I listen to several while driving back and forth to work. They help me think about craft, catch up on publishing news and brainstorm good ideas. These are a few of my favorites:

-The Writer’s Well: Ever wonder what it’s like to quit your day job and write full-time? Rachel Herron and J.Thorn team up for 20 minutes each week to talk about the real life joys and struggles of making a living from their writing. One host asks the other an unscripted question and they both answer it. Lots of impromptu wisdom shared. They also focus on issues of wellness and health for writers.

I Should Be Writing: A Podcast for Wanna be Fiction Writers. Author Mur Lafferty has been hosting this podcast for ten years. Mur’s honesty about the ups and downs of the writing process really speaks to me. She’s very encouraging and a master at sharing tips on how to keep one’s self writing (and why it is important to do so). She periodically conducts interviews with leading authors and also does an occasional feedback show where she answers listeners’ questions. ‘I Should Be Writing’ has won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards.

Shipping and Handling-Ever dream of being represented by an agent? Most writers do. Ever wonder what an agent’s life is like? Check out two successful agents, Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary Inc. and Jennifer Udden of Barry Goldblatt Literary that get together every month, over a glass of wine, and chat about how they decide to sign a client, how they pitch to editors and much more. A peek into a world the fascinating and fast changing world of publishing.

2. Host a Submission Party
How is submitting your work going? Has it slowed down some? Need a bit of support? Have you ever tried hosting a submission party with other writers? It’s fun and can provide the momentum needed to get more of your work out into the world. I wrote about the why and how of submission parties here.

3. Try Some Writing Prompts
Feeling stuck in your writing? Bored with your writing? Take a break and try these fun writing prompts, all focused on ice and coolness.

 

 

Confession time. I have a bad writing habit. Actually, it’s really more of a bad organizing habit that impacts my writing. I tend to write things down in multiple places. Every few months, I start off with a journal of some size and vow to write everything of importance in one place—that journal. After a few weeks of trying, I am back to scribbling ideas on sticky pads, legal pads, index cards, slips of paper, the back of my checks, receipts, etc. I forget to carry my journal, or I discover it’s uncomfortable to carry in my purse. You get the idea. I’m quickly demoralized by the array of unorganized paper that gathers. At times I’ll have so many unrelated sticky pad notes wadded together it will seem as if they wandered off, had some fun, and produced sticky pad offspring. Overall, this lack of having my notes organized creates a lot of wasted time, energy and clutter.

I often listen to author Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing. Recently, she talked about the value of tackling one bad writing habit at a time. She said it is too hard to fix multiple issues in one’s writing all at the same. Makes sense. And, this insight is applicable to anything that impedes one’s writing.

I’m a fan of digital organizers like Evernote and I do take notes on my phone. But, I am a paper gal through and through. I wanted to find a solution to my inability to keep all my ideas/thoughts/musings in one place.

One of my dear friends has been using and raving about the Bullet Journal, a popular tracking and organizing system, for years. She uses it for everything and continually encourages me to try it. I have resisted. I felt like I would start with the best of intentions and then stop using it in a month b/c I have multiple projects that I like to keep kind of separate (academic and creative). She disagreed with me, but let it go.

In late June, I came across this article from blogger and author, Chrys Fey. She uses the bullet journal to support her writing career. Instead of using it as a main to-do list, Chrys shared:

“For my bullet journal on the other hand, I like to keep track of all the things I do (from my to-do list) for my writing career, from writing and editing to publishing and marketing. I love this because it’s a log I can come back to if I need to know when I completed a specific task. It’s also great proof that writing is my full-time career, if that should ever be questioned, lol. And, it’s nice to see all that I accomplish.”

Her post gave me the idea to use the bullet journal in a similar way—just to support my writing. As writers, we dream about success, but rarely in those dreams do we visualize ourselves working in different ways. It’s a lot less glamorous to envision new organizing systems as part of our success. The reality though is that my writing career is expanding and I need different structures to keep connected to its various components (e.g. submission opportunities, speaking gigs, scheduling readings, upcoming workshops, writing blog posts, author newsletters, fictional works, etc.).

Using the bullet journal just for my writing felt interesting and doable.

As many people do, I decided to adapt the bullet journal system to meet my needs. I took an existing journal (one I can carry around everywhere) and watched this video on the basics on how to set up a bullet journal.

This journal had little writing in it, so it became a perfect candidate for its transformation into a bullet journal.

The result has been fabulous. I feel more organized and my space is less cluttered.

I occasionally write an idea down on sticky pad, but usually in a day or two, the idea is transferred to the journal. I am really enjoying using this system.

The August log

I highly recommend Chrys’s post for more information on how to use a bullet journal for your writing.

What’s a bad writing habit that you’re wanting to change? I’d love to know.

Photo credit (top picture)

I just completed a month long complaint fast and I feel great. I haven’t done one in years.

What is a complaint fast and what might you gain from trying one?

This fast is just what it sounds like—you refrain from making a complaint, or a repetitive negative statement, for a specified amount of time. You can choose a week, a month or longer.

There have been times where I have felt that I was complaining way more than was good or healthy for me.

The benefits I have experienced on complaint fasts include having energy to focus on what’s important in the moment, being action oriented and being more attuned to my feelings. These benefits definitely support my creative life.

I discovered the idea of a ‘complaint fast’ probably about six years ago. Amanda Owen, personal transformation author, is the first person I remember writing about and introducing me to this concept. She is the author of two fantastic books: The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want and Deserve (I liked this book so much, I reviewed it on the blog) and Born to Receive: 7 Powerful Steps Women Can Take Today to Reclaim Their Half of the Universe (here is my interview with her).

Here is a snippet from Owen:

“We live in a society where complaining is a way of life and a way to bond. But recounting the unfairnesses, the slights and the difficulties that you endure day in and day out has insidious consequences….Complaining is different from talking about your feelings. Complaining is telling a story about your suffering. And, as you have probably discovered, that story doesn’t ever seem to end! Additionally, it chases people away. Have you ever been trapped listening to a monologue of misery? It’s not fun.

Feelings are universal; everyone can relate to them. When you talk or write about your feelings, you discover solutions that help you find your way to a happier situation….

If you have an impulse to complain, check in with your feelings instead. Sit with them a bit. Become familiar with what they are telling you.”

Practically this means that when on a complaint fast, you are observant of your language and emotions during the day. When you feel like you are about to complain (out loud), you check in with yourself. It doesn’t mean that you don’t acknowledge what is bothering you or share that appropriately. A complaint fast for most of us gets us off auto-pilot and raises our awareness of how we manage the inevitable irritations in life. It’s definitely not about bottling up feelings, suppressing feelings or putting on a happy face. I found myself journalling quite a bit about my feelings and also taking the time to share my feelings with others in an open and honest way. And, as she suggests, by redirecting the energy one uses for complaining about a situation into finding solutions, new ideas pop up all the time.

I absolutely love doing complain fasts with a buddy. It’s a sure fire way to create some accountability and humor during the process.

I guarantee you that if you try a complaint fast for even for a short period of time, you will tap into new areas of self-knowledge. After a few days you may feel emotionally lighter and more at ease with life.

If you take on this challenge, I’d love to hear about how it goes!

I have come across two mesmerizing and powerful interviews with authors Cheryl Strayed and Dani Shapiro. They both are interviewed by Marie Forleo on her TV show on YouTube. We usually need a boost for our writing in midsummer when a slower pace and the thrills of gelato call to us, luring us away from the demands of our creative work. I hope these interviews inspire you as much as they did me!

This conversation with Cheryl Strayed is beautiful, honest, vulnerable and completely real:

She covers a variety of subjects:
-why it’s OK not to write every day (she’s a binge writer)
-how to be gentle with yourself and your writing
-how to find the core questions in your work
-why she turned away from her ambitious nature at different times in her writing life
-how to keep putting the words on the page

https://www.marieforleo.com/2017/02/cheryl-strayed/

This conversation with Dani Shapiro offers deep insight on:

-why waiting to feel inspired may not be such a great idea
-why inner critics change the ways they berate us as we grow as writers (and what we can do about it)
-why she put aside 200 pages of writing
-the productive uses of despair
-how to get the courage to share your work
-her two word writing prompt that she uses in classes

https://www.marieforleo.com/2018/01/dani-shapiro-writing-process/

How long do you want to keep writing and creating? Is your body and mind up for the journey? Writing is one of the few professions that can be practically age proof. There’s one big caveat though—we can write well into our senior years only if we respect our bodies and keep them as healthy as we can.  Joanna Penn, noted and successful indie author has teamed up with Dr. Euan Lawson to write The Healthy Writer: Reduce Your Pain, Improve Your Health, and Build a Writing Career for the Long-Term. And, it promises to be a new standard on this topic.

Aching back? Chronic pain, sleep problems? Anxious? Sugar cravings? Penn and Lawson tackle many physical and mental health issues that beset writers, including difficult ones to talk about like depression, loneliness, anxiety and challenges with chronic pain.

Like in her other book: Successful Author Mindset: A Handbook for Surviving the Writer’s Journey (which I also enjoyed), Penn posted a survey on her blog and asked writers to share their triumphs and challenges with staying healthy. And, they did–over a 1,000 writers responded, detailing their struggles, triumphs and tips.

In the past several years, Penn has been open about her debilitating migraines, chronic lower back pain and managing the emotional ups and downs of creative work. Some of her long term solutions have included taking up yoga 3-4 times a week, using dictation software and taking daily walks. I’ve been inspired to see how positively the changes she’s made have benefited her.

What really works in this book is their combined experience. They expertly weave together insights from their own journey and useful snippets from survey respondents. What’s the science on rest, standing desks and ergonomic chairs? Lawson’s got the answers and does a fantastic job of making the science and medical research accessible.

What’s it about: Getting you to think about ways you can keep doing what you love for a long time; prioritizing your health as part of a long term sustainable career as a writer, cultivating a healthy author mindset

Structure: Several chapters are co-written, some chapters are individually written, reflective questions and resources at the end of each chapter

Style: Extremely personable; scientific information presented in a way that is fun to read

Topics: a personal journey to a pain-free back, writing with depression and anxiety, the active writer’s mindset, loneliness and isolation, a letter to sugar, strategies for the sofa bound, tools for writing, dealing with imposter syndrome, perfectionism, developing writing routines, ways to revise

Inspirational Nuggets:

There is a risk that any book about health can get preachy, but this is not a book about denial. It is not necessary to live a life that would make a monk weep. We are not aspirational ascetics, denying the flesh for the greater holiness of the written word. This is not an exhaustive book covering everything possible, but we hope it will help you feel less alone in your journey toward wellness. It is about empowerment. It is about sustainability. It is about making change that will help you become a healthy writer for the long term.

Healthy Writers Need Healthy Connections:

If you want to be a healthy writer, then you should spend as much time addressing your social networks and your social isolation as much as anything else. It needs to be on a par with giving up cigarettes, sorting out your sleep, losing weight and getting exercise.

Jumping into Facebook doesn’t count. In fact, there is mixed evidence about the impact of online social media and its effect on loneliness. One study among postgraduate students found that increased use of Facebook was associated with loneliness.

The inability to do what everyone around me was doing made me feel even more worthless than the illness already did (from a chapter written by Dan Holloway on writing and mental health issues):

And if I ever admitted to my writing friends that I was finding it hard the classic retort would come back: “We all feel like that.” People who say this mean well, but it is such a damaging thing to say. The thing is, when I say I can’t put pen to paper, I don’t mean I’m finding it tough. I don’t mean I need tips to unlock the words. I don’t mean I need prompts or-don’t even go there-a better plan. I mean I can’t. I physically cannot make the words appear. You wouldn’t tell someone who couldn’t use their legs that we all find it hard to stand up, just because sometimes you’re tired and don’t feel like it. It’s time we stopped making the same gaffes with mental ill health.

Sort out your sleep

Many writers surveyed for this book talked about sleep. There were suggestions for developing routines at the end of the day and recommendations on avoiding screen-time. There was a recognition that depression, anxiety and work related stress had a big impact on your sleep.

In Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker collates studies that show sleeping less than six or seven hours a night can impact your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, disrupt your blood sugar levels, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, and contribute to psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety.

So clearly it’s an important topic for writers.

Bottom line: This is a definitive guide for encouraging writers to make sensible and long lasting changes for their health.

I consider myself pretty healthy. I work out 4-5 times a week, watch what I eat and meditate several times a week. I came to this book feeling like I knew a lot about healthy living. This book, however, opened my eyes to the many things that I had taken for granted.

I have been lucky. I haven’t had much back, neck or wrist pain. But, I don’t want to take any of that for granted anymore. I saw that I was cutting corners on getting proper rest, working in not very ergonomically friendly ways, and ignoring good rules for taking breaks from work.

After reading this book, I felt inspired to take even better care of myself—especially now that I turned fifty.

I have implemented a few things right away (like getting a riser for my laptop), and recommitting to using my dictation software more often. The bigger lifestyles changes like getting more rest are long-term projects.

Not to be morbid, but when I face my demise, I hope that I’m very elderly and in a chair writing. I have better hopes of going that way by making investments in my health now.

If you pick up this book from Amazon, please consider using my link below. I am an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Here is the link for the paperback.

 Here is the link for the e-book.


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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