Slow and steady wins the race (hooray for bunnies!)
Did you make a New Year’s Resolution to start that memoir, finish that novel, or revise those poems? How’s that going? Sorry. Don’t freak out. You’re not alone! The statistics are pretty grizzly so I’ll spare you dear people the live links. But here’s the sexy good news: you can write more often in 2019. It’s easier than you think.
(Goodness at the get-go: This process also works for reviving any kind of creative practice: painting, composing, jewelry making, blogging, etc.)
How to write more in 2019?
1. Find a spot.
Find a place where you can sit quietly. Find a time when you won’t be distracted. Stephen King wrote his first novels on a board across his knees stuffed in between the wall and the washing machine. I’m sure you’ve got a nicer place than that.
2. Make some room.
For some of you this means make some room on your desk. For most of you, this means make some head room. Turn off (silence, not vibrate!) all the bells and whistles on your gadgets and gizmos. This is a crucial step. There’s a ton of research about the distracting bummer of technology and myth of multitasking. If you use your phone as a timer, put it across the room from you.
3. Clear some space.
Take 30 seconds to relax and greet the Imagination. Take a couple of deep breaths! Take another 30 seconds to remember why you like to write, or re-connect to why you dig the current project you’re working on.
4. Keep it short.
All you’ve got to do is sit down for just 15 minutes, 3 times a week. Seriously, that’s all I tell my clients to do to begin to build a lasting routine. In fact, starting off small has a much stronger success rate for the long haul. Do you have time to do 15 minutes, 3 times a week? Of course you do.
5. Keep your butt in the chair.
Set a timer for 15 minutes. It’s OK if you spent your 15 minutes brainstorming transitions, revising, or writing about how you don’t know what to write about. Notice what distracts you (10 to 1 this will be a voice in your head), and return to the page. Keep your butt in the chair. When the timer ends, you’re done!
6. Cheer yourself on.
Did you do your 15 minutes this morning? Whoo-hoo! That’s 15 minutes more than you did yesterday. Or, that’s 400 words more on your novel to revise later. I put a big bright “15!” on my calendar when I finish my writing time. When I see those “15s” marching across my week toward my larger goal, it encourages me to continue.
FAQ: Can I write longer if the juices are flowing?
Of course, you can! But only if you have the time and you’re into it. The main goal is to build a muscle for sitting at your desk in short chunks, 3 times a week—and to associate writing with juiciness not agony (see #3). You don’t get extra points for going longer. Plus, ending in the middle of a sentence or an interesting idea will inspire you to return to your desk tomorrow!
Try 15 minutes/3 times a week for one week and see how it goes. Then start with a clean slate (very important!) and do it again the next week.
Let me know how it goes!
PS—Taking a class is a great structure to keep yourself writing. I’m teaching some poetry classes this month on revision and form, and spots are starting to fill for my Women's Writing Retreat in June.
I like the change of year - the chance to assess what we've accomplished and create a new intention is a powerful way to actively build the life we want. Otherwise, it's so easy to just have the days pile up....
I have a tradition that I do the first weeks of January that's fun and insightful. I tend to focus my questions on The Writing Life, but you can focus on whatever area of life you want (family, retirement, career, etc.). If you try it yourself, I'd love to hear how it goes!
1. First, I close out the previous year - with a generous eye! - and note some achievements, like: I ran my first women's writing retreat. My poetry manuscript won a national book prize and is getting published. I started volunteering. What would your accomplishments be this year?
2. I also note some challenges with the previous year, too, like: I haven't yet found a new writing project to really sink my teeth into. I didn't engage in as much activism as I wish I had. Where have you not made as much headway as you would have liked last year?
3. Next, I turn to the new year. I often do a tarot reading, and I also like to journal for a bit. You can ask yourself: What 2-3 things do I want to focus on in the coming year? Try to make them concrete and achievable but also inspiring to you. For me, I've often talked about writing a regular blog/newsletter thingy (this email is a sort of practice run....) and see where it goes. What's something you want to finally do in coming year?
4. To call in the New Year, I also create a collage. (I love collaging because you don't have to be a good at drawing or sketching to do it. I just use images from whatever magazines I have in the house, and glue them onto a regular piece of copy paper.) Collaging is a fun way to create a visual reminder for myself. I like to gather images that reflect the energy or events that I hope to manifest in the coming year, and I put the collage above my writing desk so I can see it often. I just make a collage with images, but a lot of people like to also cut out words, too. If you were to make a collage for 2019, what images/words might you include?
5. Next, I like to "interview" the collage. I write my answers on the back of the collage, so it's handy. Here are some questions to consider:
I hope that the coming year is the year when you commit to pursue your (big and small) dreams, too. And guess what? Following your dreams is good for you! Read about it in the NY Times.
Some years are years of planting, and some years are years of harvesting...which type of year was this past year? What type will your next year be?
Mother’s Day is a complicated day for stepmoms. We sometimes feel like an imposter on such a fraught, Hallmark day—yet we often do the bulk of the heavy lifting in the household to raise our husband’s children. We are mothers in a very real sense, so when our love for our stepchildren is dismissed or downplayed, we feel ignored on Mother’s Day. Anyway, it’s a hard day.
I went on a civil war walking tour of Washington, DC this week, and I’ve been thinking about President Lincoln a lot. He is one of the few famous people I know who was raised mostly by a stepmother. Sarah Bush Johnston raised Abe since he was 10 years old. Sarah was there to tend and repair him and the family after his mother’s death, and she raised Abe for a long time. She parented him through his formative years. Lincoln talked openly talk about his stepmom, and he did so with love and appreciation. She was pivotal to who he became as an adult, and he knew it. He was a good boy.
I see my mother’s influence on me quite often—since she passed away, it’s a way to keep her with me and to recognize her impact. Many things I do, and say, come directly from my mom—even the way I walk. During the DC walking tour (conveniently wedged between Mother’s Day and Stepmother’s Day) I found myself searching for Sarah’s influence on Abe. What of herself and her role as stepmom did President Lincoln carry into the role he played in our country and in his service to the union?
I know Sarah was creative and tenacious—as a stepmom, she built a home in a widower’s house. She raised another woman’s children and gracefully balanced her own needs to feel wanted and loved with children recovering from a profound loss. As a stepmom, she took on a new family because it was the right thing to do and because she loved her husband. She struggled to manage her feelings of doubt, failure, and not belonging in her own home. Did Sarah’s inventiveness and self-management have an impact on Abe? He successful managed this country through a civil war. He is the only U.S. president to hold a patent.
I know Sarah worked to keep her marriage safe—as a stepmom, she had to deal with a handful of unique stressors as well as the backlash of raising young children who missed their mother and loved her, too—they had little emotional skills to keep tidy such a divided allegiance. She probably found herself an unconscious, or conscious, target at times, and she surfed waves of self-doubt. Did Sarah’s generosity and grace impact Abe? He had a lovely dry wit and used it to dismantle his opponents. He put aside party politics and took a stand for the fate of the entire nation.
He wasn’t perfect, but this essay isn’t about perfection—just the opposite. Stepmoms are dominated, and often undone, but their own unrealistic standards. And we’re usually judged by an even higher standard than those for bio-moms, if you can imagine. (Believe it.) We endure rude treatment, mean jokes, and tedious cluelessness on way too many of our days.
If you know a stepmom, lucky you! You can acknowledge her on Mother’s Day, or Stepmother’s Day (the Sunday following Mother’s Day), or both. Not sure what day she prefers to celebrate? Ask her.
I'm a writer, teacher and certified professional coach. I'm gonna see if writing an occasional blog post is a thing I like doing and want to continue doing.