Rituals, Habits, and Getting the Words Down

I think we all have them. Even those who don’t think so, I believe all writers have them. I do. I’ve had several over the years that worked well for me and that at the time, I wasn’t aware of their significance. It was only after a certain point that I realized, hey, this is something, this is necessary for my brain to focus. I had trained my brain to recognize certain things and turn on writing mode.

I won’t lie, either. I needed writing rituals. Sure, I could sit down and crank out words, usually with very little prior thought, but there’s something special and zen-like if the ritual is followed, if the ritual is observed.

For me, it was more than one thing…

Coffee. I needed to have a cup of coffee sitting on the table/desk. And no, water in a coffee mug or anything else in a coffee mug, didn’t work. It had to be coffee, and often it had to be hot coffee. Regular, a latte, a macchiato, a cappuccino… Whatever it was, it needed to be coffee of some sort. I mean, why do y’all think I have such a huge mug collection?

Hoodie. I had a Kyle Busch hoodie that I bought one year after the season had ended and I wore that thing All. The. Time. It was comfy, oversized, and I loved it. It currently has rips and threads and holes and a rather interesting smell to it. However, if I were to wash it, it would likely disintegrate. I no longer use it, but for many years, it was a necessary part of my writing life. No matter the season, I wore it if I was writing.

Music. I need music to write with. I need songs that I know by heart, that I can sing along with. You know, the kind like… Well, for me, it’s 80’s music. I can sing along without giving it any thought whatsoever. I hear the music and the words just come out. It’s that type of mindless mindfulness that I need when I write. Writing in silence doesn’t work for me for the most part. In silence, I struggle with my editor brain, my floundering self-esteem and self confidence as a writer, and I second guess every single word, phrase, fragment, sentence, paragraph, page, chapter, until I’ve second guessed the whole book and figure it’s the worst thing ever written and I hate it. Music in my ears keeps that shit at bay. Music in my ears calms me and allows me to get down to it. But like I said, it has to be music and songs I know by heart. I have to be able to sing along or tune it out while I’ve tuned it in.

Writing movies. It’s no secret that if you’ve followed me for some time now, that you know I have several go-to movies when I’m in a writing slump. When I need to be reminded that writers of other books, and screenplays, and even songs understand that writing is not a straight line from A to B. It’s not something that goes away. It’s not something that always flows or is the best combination of words ever put down on paper or screen. Writing is HARD. Writing may come easier for some at any given time, but every writer feels and experiences the struggle and sometimes I need to be reminded of this by way of Michael Douglas in his pink bathrobe in Wonder Boys or Emma Thompson standing on top of her desk as she’s trying to figure out how to kill Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction or Diane Keaton trying to write her latest play and struggling with it until she falls in love and gets her heart broken and then the words come pouring out in Something’s Gotta Give. These movies do something for me that help me get through, that help me see how much I love writing…when it’s going well, and how much I love that there are others who know the struggle when it’s not.

Those things were part of what I needed to write all the books I did when I first began writing. After a while, when I began struggling with the words, those rituals… Well, they didn’t help. My issues went far deeper and I’m still trying to claw my way back out of the darkness.

I’ve begun trying to develop better writing habits and honoring writing rituals that help me keep those habits alive and well.

I can now write without coffee on my desk. I prefer to have it rather than not, but a glass of water will often do the trick.

My hoodie has been relegated to the coat rack. I like to be cozy still and sometimes I’ll put on a cardigan or use another hoodie, but mostly I’ll just wear long sleeves and only use something else if I get cold, which is often. But I don’t need anything like it to write anymore. I think I find that rather sad.

Music is still and likely will always be a MUST.

Writing movies… I still love them so much and I always find something new in them. I won’t be giving them up any time soon, either.

I recently read a book called Finish by Jon Acuff. I loved it. And one of the things he talks about is having these little habits or rituals that help trigger the brain, to tell it that it’s time to write and get down to business. I understood this for myself as stated in the previous rituals, but I understand it more now because I struggle more and more with staying focused, and so, I’ve incorporated a few things…

A dedicated workspace. I used to roam the house or wherever to write and no doubt I can still write in coffee shops or in hotels or on the couch or at the kitchen table or even up in the bed… Nope. Scratch that last one. I’m too sleepy all the time to try to write in bed. But I’ve found that having a home office, a desk that I picked out and bought along with a chair, a computer set-up I like and some things on my desk that make me happy or feel productive or just because helps me center and somewhat tap into that focus.

Music. The constant. Always. I have lovely pink over the ear headphones and I have a fantastic JBL speaker. I use them both. Obviously not at the same time. But they pump the music to me and that’s what I need. Also, a subscription to Spotify Premium. I know some think it’s a waste of money, but I have to say, it’s been an amazing tool for me for not only music, but for podcasts, too. And I’ll talk about those another time.

A candle. Jon Acuff says he lights a balsam candle or fir candle and the scent triggers his brain that it’s time to work. I love candles, especially the ones with wood wicks because I love listening to the crackle as they burn. I love a good balsam candle, but a good pumpkin spice one is nice, along with cinnamon. I like strong, warm scented candles that I associate with cozy thoughts and feelings. Seeing that flame flickering helps my brain calm and start to focus, as well.

A timer. One on my phone or on my fitness band or even one I’ve downloaded to the computer. I write best with sprints. I focus better if I do sprints, so I set a timer each time I sit down to write and it helps narrow my focus. I need words during a set amount of time and the shorter the period the better for me. Some do 30min, 60min, even 90min writing sprints. Those are too long for me. I have done as short as 5min and cranked out 200 words. 10min is between 300-400. 20min is between 600-700 (on a good day). But the writing sprints have saved me so many times when it comes to needing words. When I think, ‘ugh, I still need to write’, it’s a feeling that is stressful and daunting. But… when I look at it from the view of 10min. That’s it. I can write for 10min without breaking a sweat and then I don’t think about it. I just write. And before I know it, I’m on my 3rd sprint and nearing 1000-1200 words.

And nature. This is one that is becoming more of a thing for me. I like looking out at the sky, the green of the grass, the magnolia tree, the bushes around the deck. I like looking outside when I write. It’s not necessary for me, but I love it and the more I can do it, the more at peace I feel.

All writers have things that work or don’t work for them. All writers struggle from time to time and the systems that we put in place, either consciously or unconsciously, help us get the words in so that you can have books to read one day. Habits and rituals don’t always remain the same. They shift and change as we shift and change as human beings, as writers. I am constantly learning this.

I’m working to develop writing habits that help me be much more consistent than I’ve been in a number of years and it’s not been as painful as I expected. I’m working with much more love and grace for myself and for whatever process it is that I am working at any given moment. But if I do keep to the things above, I’ve learned that I am more successful in my endeavors than when I try to go off script and free-wheel my way though the fog.

Lissa

I Didn’t Win NaNoWriMo, But…

…I did write throughout the month of November. And for the first time in all the years I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo, I am not beating myself up for not winning. I am not talking bad about myself to myself for not reaching 50,000 words. I started 3 different stories in November. Two of them I’m not sure they’ll go anywhere, but the third one…? That one has some serious promise. It’s the one I started writing while I was over in Birmingham a few weeks ago. It’s the one story that has the least number of words on it, but it has more heart in it in those 6000 words that it does have.

One of the things that I have done, since I haven’t beat myself up about not winning, is I have applauded myself for writing consistently throughout the month of November. it was something I hadn’t done in a really fucking long time. I mean A Really Fucking Long Time! And writing like that felt good. Even on the days I didn’t write more than 300 words, it still felt good to write them.

I’ve been listening to different podcasts and have seen for a while now about writers who write anywhere from 5000 words a day to 10,000 words a day…every day. Those who are 6-8 months ahead of their latest release. And let me tell you, seeing that so much, seeing so many writers claiming that and proving it…It’s incredibly disheartening when I’m sitting here trying to be proud of my 300 words that felt like I had to carve up my insides to get out. Especially when I used to be one of those who could write 3000 words a days with relative ease and have books coming out on a consistent basis. But proud of my 300 bleeding words I am. We all start or in my case start over somewhere.

So, while I didn’t officially win, to me, I won by virtue of the fact that I started writing and have kept writing and will continue to write until something or several somethings are finished.

I hope you’re having a good week so far and I hope that you’re proud of yourself for being consistent in something, for starting something, for pushing forward and never giving up, for showing up for whatever you need to show up for that sets you on fire because I’m proud of you.

Lissa

Well, Bless Your Heart

I love those words. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? I love them because I’m a Southern girl. Southern woman. I was born in the South and will likely die in the South… Unless, of course, I find out I’m a long lost relative of a Duke in England somewhere and I’ve been named in a will to inherit a country manor house, then I’m outta here. But until that happens, I’m here in the South. It’s my home. It’s a part of me. And I’m proud to be a Southerner.

As a whole, we’ve taken a lot of shit over the years and a lot of it is rightly deserved (Yes, we Southerners do study the history of the South. A lot). We’ve taken a lot of shit most recently for what happened in 2016 and again, a lot is rightly deserved. And I have to be honest here and say that for the first time in my life, I was embarrassed as a Southerner. (This isn’t a political post, I promise)

Over the weekend, I spent some time in Alabama. I drove from Charlotte to a small town outside Birmingham. I listened to Miranda Lambert’s new album Wildcard MULTIPLE TIMES. Like ON REPEAT. I love it. It’s wonderful. She’s found herself again and come through the heartache to the other side and it’s brilliant. I visited family and family friends who have a big home in the country with woods all around. We laughed and we talked and I’m the only liberal among us all. I was also the youngest, which was kind of a strange feeling since I’ve been in a mental place of thinking and acting like I’m so very old. I haven’t hit 50 yet, but something has been going on inside me that m age has freaked me out. But…one of the days I was there, I was sitting outside looking at nature, and it hit me that for a while now, I’ve been trying to be someone and something that I’m not…as a person and as a writer. I’ve been trying to distance myself from myself. That’s never a good thing.

I’m tired of all the anger and the hate and the discord. It’s draining. It’s stressful. It’s not productive. You can be passionate about something, about someone, about a cause, about change and we should be, we need to be, but there are ways to go about it that don’t require anger and hate and just…ugh!

While I was away, I unplugged from social media except to post about Kyle Busch winning the 2019 Nascar Championship and posting a couple of pictures on my Instagram. I didn’t check email. I did start a new story that came to me as I was driving up to Birmingham. But that bit of unplugging, that bit of distancing myself from the You need to, You should, You have to, mentality helped clear my head some.

I’m a person who says Y’all, who calls people dude and bubba, who drinks coke with peanuts, who boils peanuts, who has a twang and a Southern accent, who has studied the South and the Civil War, who did not vote for Trump in 2016, but who still loves her grandma and friends who did, and who does not go to church but believes in magic and that the universe has my back. I’m in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains and cabins in the woods and am someone who knows this region of the country with its sweet tea and fried chicken and Friday night fish fries and where college football is a religion and where Nascar was born.

But I was trying to be someone else and I was trying to write stories as someone else. I was trying to write for everyone else, for their expectations. I wasn’t trying to write to the market or jump on trends because I just don’t shift that fast, but… I lost my fuckin’ way, y’all… In various ways, but definitely in this one.

I have a little sign that sits on top of my monitor that says “There’s Nothing In The Whole Wide World Like A Southern Girl” and that’s a true statement. Take it from me, a Southern girl. I need to stop trying to be someone else, someone that I can’t seem to connect with.

There are lightning bolts and thunder cracks that wake us up sometimes, and then there are the quiet whispers that unless you turn it all off and tune it all out, you’ll never hear them. I had needed the weekend away. I had needed to see my mom and my grandma. I had needed to spend some time with only myself, and alone in a car for 6.5 hours was as good a way as any to do that, to let my creative mind wander, to sing along to songs so much that my voice started to go.

My outlook has been different since I’ve been back home. It’s been more optimistic and brighter and it’s been more tuned into ME and not so much the outside noise.

Just getting outside the buzzing and humming and yammering… It’s a wonder the things that will be revealed…

Lissa

Slow Write

As I was thinking about what to title this post, the song Slow Ride by Foghat kept popping into my head for some reason, but the words kind of sounded the same and so, Slow Write became the title.

The song starts out…

Slow Ride, Take It Easy…

And that’s the approach I’ve chosen to take with my writing for the time being, for the near future, maybe longer. I don’t know.

I’ve always loved writing in notebooks and buying all the cute pens and pencils, color coordinating everything, including the story within. It sounds strange, maybe, but it sort of fit with my own brand of OCD.

Author Whitney G. writes her books by hand, has them typed up by someone (she used to do it herself) and when I first found this out, I was really kind of…surprised, I think. In this current landscape of write publish write publish write publish, there’s someone who still writes their books by hand? I was fascinated and tucked it away in the back of my mind. Then, a few things happened.

One, my office. I now have an office. I could move out of the family room into the converted dining room, repaint the walls, add my own things. This led to going through old notebooks from the past decade of writing for publication. I have a few dozen notebooks and hundreds of pages with notes and the beginnings of ideas and a chapter here or there and in some cases, half written books. And I got to thinking…

Two, NaNoWriMo. I was planning to participate. No one is expecting anything from me. I think, in part, my readers have given up on me which I understand, so, why not try this writing a book by hand thing. I’m writing by hand in journals every day, taking notes by hand in a mindset course, taking notes from books by hand… It seemed like the perfect time to play with it. Besides, if JK Rowling could write Harry Potter longhand on legal pads, then dammit, I could pants a novel or a couple novellas for NaNoWriMo.

Three, my eyes. They don’t like looking at screens all day long anymore. Computer, phone, tablet, Kindle, television. My eyes get tired much quicker these days. They get scratchy and dry and honestly, I get tired of being in one place to write, I get tired of being constantly distracted by the bright colors of the computer and the million other things I could be doing.

And so, here we are…

It’s not easy. Some days I want to just sit at the computer and type because the words would fill the page much faster. But I don’t give in. This blog post is the first time in a week that I’ve turned on the computer and let me tell you, it’s hard updating the NaNoWriMo site on my phone cause their site is not mobile friendly.

The process of writing by hand is a deliberate one for me. I don’t know how it is for others, but for me… The notebook has to be just the right one, the right color. The pencil has to be comfortable and also, the right color. But it can also be a whim… I can pick up the notebook and start writing at any moment. I can get a few lines of dialog or a paragraph in whereas with the computer, it’s not quite that easy unless I’m carrying a laptop or Chromebook or tablet around with me. The phone can be used in a pinch and I’ve done that before, written a thousand words or so on the phone in an app. But this process of writing by hand, writing slower… I’m enjoying the deliberateness of it. I’m enjoying the freedom and constraint of it. I’m enjoying the numbers adding up at the end of the day without me stressing over the word count at the bottom of the computer screen.

And yes, I have to count out each and every word, each and every day to figure out where I’m at for NaNoWriMo, but it’s been worth it for me. Of course, we are only on day 8, but that’s 8 days of writing something, writing anything and that’s something I haven’t done in a very long time.

There’s something wonderful to be said for slowing down, for being deliberate and intentional with the formation of each word.

Happy National Novel Writing Month!

Please hold me!!!

Nah… I’ve got this. Maybe.

I’ve never won NaNoWriMo. I’ve never even come close. I usually give up and try to figure something else out and then get lost in baking and cooking for Thanksgiving and never look back, only come December to feel like a complete and utter failure because I couldn’t get a measly 50,000 words written in 30 days. I mean, look at all those who DO it! Look at all those who do it on a monthly or hell, do it every 2 weeks all year long! And me, I couldn’t even do it for one month, one freakin’ month.

That was the shit I’d tell myself every year. And sure, I told myself a few times that I wasn’t going to participate at all, but then I’d give in and fail before I got started good. Like… 2 days. Maybe 3. But 2 days of doing it, of cranking out words, of getting more than the minimum daily word count of 1667 and I’d be on such a roll and I’d be so gung-ho and I’d be… Done. I would doddle through the next week or so, but no real effort. I’d tell myself next year would be better. And news flash, next year would not be better.

So, why am I doing it at all? Because I love a challenge. Because my head is screwed on a little different this time around. Because I can’t help myself. I won Camp NaNoWriMo over the summer and damned if I’m not going to give NaNoWriMo a whopping good try.

I have been really excited this year for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been working on getting my house clean so I wouldn’t have to do it over the weekend, and I’ve done the grocery shopping and some meal prep and some organization stuff to keep me on track and I’ve been so damn excited that… Wait for it… I burnt myself out two days ago. I was exhausted. Literally exhausted. I couldn’t put two words together. I was in bed and asleep before 10pm and slept nearly 9 hours. That was a lot for me considering I usually only sleep 4-6 hours, if I’m lucky. But when I woke up yesterday, I felt re-energized and ready to go. I simply hadn’t paced my excitement.

And now, today is the day. Today is the day hundreds of thousands of writers around the world attempt to hash out 50,000 words in the next 30 days. This year should be interesting for the writers in US who celebrate Thanksgiving as the last 3 days of NaNoWriMo take place over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Rivalry Saturday.

So, as author Chris Fox states at the end of most of his YouTube videos, I have to get back to the writing.

If you read this and are participating, I am wishing you the best of luck.

If you read this and are thinking about it, but unsure, try it. Despite my previous years of not finishing, you will learn a lot about yourself as a writer. Just visit the website and sign up https://nanowrimo.org/

If you read this and aren’t quite ready for the 50,000 word novel challenge, especially at the holidays, there’s always Camp NaNoWriMo which is held in both April and July with word count goals of anywhere from 10,000 to 1,000,000. I will be participating each of those months next year.

If you’re interested, I’ve created a Facebook group for moral support, kicking ass support, or whatever other support you may need to get through NaNoWriMo. There are also dozens of word sprint groups on Facebook, local NaNoWriMo groups, forums on the NaNoWriMo site itself, so… Join in somewhere. You won’t regret it.