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Relaxed and happy

So one of my oldest affirmations, or perhaps, quasi-affirmation, or well, if I am honest, this was my mission statement in 1994, so I was young, and this sentence is now violating so many grammar rules that I think I will start again. Ahem. One of my oldest affirmations is “Be relaxed and happy like that woman we met in the grocery store.”

Impressive, hmm? Clear as mud. So a mission statement is a statement of what you want to be in the moment, not what you want to accomplish or possess. Around the time I was developing this mission statement, my now-husband and I ran into this woman he knew in a grocery store, and she was super relaxed and laughing as we chatted with her, and I thought, yes, that’s how I would like to be.

It wasn’t all I wanted to accomplish, but there was something admirable about not tackling every activity with a turbo charge but rather taking a breath and appreciating that which brings joy rather than focusing only on that which elicits sorrow, rage, or despair.

As I mentioned, I am revisiting my affirmations to bolster my commitment to writing, so I might explore briefly what this affirmation could mean for me as a writer. Relaxing instead of writing would not be what I want, but relaxing as I tackle my writing projects could be beneficial. What if I allow my writing to be a way to relax and smile, to celebrate the moment?

Can I make progress on anything if I am relaxed and happy as I work? Such an approach defies the Puritan work ethic. Can the act of writing be something positive and fulfilling? Can some of the issues I want to unpack be serious and consequential, at least to me, yet the work itself still allow me to be relaxed and happy? Can I be a caring, engaged part of the greater community and be relaxed and happy? At least, some of the time?

I know that my being stressed and miserable does not help anyone else, and it tends to undermine my ability to support others or create anything worthwhile. Being relaxed and happy does not mean I am not pursuing ongoing growth and improvement. Nor do I have to pretend that it is possible to be relaxed and happy all the time, nor that writing isn’t sometimes a difficult and frustrating activity. Indeed, as I think about it, what I most need is not necessarily to feel relaxed every time I write, but to relax rather than worry about what I am writing or where it is leading. Or how long it takes to get there.

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#am (almost) writing

Every now and then, I think about trying to be more consistent and predictable in my choice of topics for my blog. A day may come when I succeed, but that day is not this day.

I have been struggling with some doubt and disappointment related to my writing, not to mention skepticism about investing time and energy in the pursuit of publication. One result is that I realize how much I like this blog as a way to share my words among what feels like a supportive and small circle of readers. I like being writer, editor, and publisher on this space, including the chance to go back and edit or even delete as my thinking changes. Traditional publication is like a snapshot of a world that is always in flux, a historical artifact as soon as it is created. Blogging as a form of publication allows for movement.

So I think I will start blogging more often. At the same time, I love writing novels, so I have been journaling lately about how to recommit to this long process that may not, in the end, lead anywhere but still brings my life so much value and meaning.

One thing I have done is reviewed some affirmations that were meaningful for me over the years, and I thought it might make sense to share some of them on the blog. Some make more sense than others, so no telling where this will lead.

50,891!

Hoorah! I am happy to report that I crossed the 50k line in National Novel Writing Month. It’s definitely a rough draft, but the month yielded so much in terms of new insights into what might happen in this novel, and I successfully added flesh and structure to what used to be mostly notes and fragments. So that’s pretty cool.

This November felt different because I have a nonfiction deadline that I’ve been working towards, so I could not fully immerse in the novel. I am pleased that I made good progress on both, but I hope to arrange things differently next November.

I have been pondering next steps but will talk about those in another blog post. For now, I just want to celebrate crossing the finish line! Best wishes to all the other Wrimos out there, and thank you to all of you who cheered me along this month.

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Light at the end of the Nano Tunnel

I have not found much time to write in the blog this November, even though I enjoy the chance to talk about process and progress on here with anyone else trying to write more words as part of National Novel Writing Month.

My current total is 44,184 words, yahoo! It feels as if I will, more or less, reach the end of this novel by the time I break 50,000, even though we all know that 50,000 isn’t exactly the length of a typical novel. I don’t even think it’s the right ball park for a young adult novel, which is my current project. Still, it is nice to feel like I’ve written from start to finish, even if it’s a very rough and short draft of a novel.

Once again, though, the process of writing a novel in a month (add air quotes) has yielded many insights into what could or should happen to my novel. I also created a folder in the Research section of my Scrivener file labeled “Fixes for Later.” As I fast draft this novel, I realize there are some parts that need changes, some minor names or background fodder, and some more significant. There’s no time now, but I try to capture those ideas as I go since I will likely forget later.

I hope those of you who have aimed to write more this month have made progress, regardless of word count. And let us all cross our fingers as we enter (at least in the U.S.) holiday season that we will still get a few more words written. In my case, here’s hoping I find time to squeeze in 6000 more by November 30th. Part of me hopes I knock it out in the next day or so, but I have to admit, the secret to my success this year has been to take it slow & steady, averaging 1700 words a day.

Write on, everyone.

40k word screenshot

Screen shot on the Nanowrimo website when I logged in a total of over 40,000 words.

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Back on track

I have been juggling multiple commitments lately because, as I feared, life would not screech to a halt just because it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so I’ve watched my progress falter on the novel. I tried not to pout and to appreciate the good things that were happening in my life that have nothing to do with the novel, but you know, it’s all about the word count.

I also wisely made myself take just a little time to ponder the plot points and articulate what scenes might fill in some gaps, also discovering the need for a few new scenes based on what I’ve already written. Once I had the right focus, it was easier than I thought to get going.

I’ve also been noticing that having a word count goal is helpful if I generally know what I want to write because it encourages me to flesh out parts that I might otherwise want to skip. So that’s been cool.

At any rate, I am now at 20,322 words, which is a couple hundred above par, which means if I can keep up this pace, I will reach 50,000 words by the end of November. In general, I find that writing around 1700 words a day is very manageable, so I just need to keep at it. It’s the catching up that is harder on me.

I have had to spend less time on the blog, but that’s okay. I will pop in when I can.

I also did find that I could take some notes and make progress just typing into my phone when I found myself having to wait around yesterday, so that’s a good feeling. I always know in theory that I could use my phone as a way to catch ideas or write a short draft on the go, but somehow in practice I never do. But thanks to this random word count goal, I’m all in.

Hope your November is going well for you, word count or otherwise!

clock set at 9 am

Writing in the flow

Writing about my prime time of 9 am yesterday made me think about the concept of flow. It feels as if I am most likely to experience flow at 9 am each day, and I even have a clock in my office stopped at 9 am to remind me of that feeling.

The concept of flow is often attributed to the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. My understanding is that flow refers to the experience of being immersed in a task in a way that is so satisfying that you lose track of time. You are caught up in the flow.

My impression is that flow, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, so it is not necessary to read too much into it if you aren’t sure you have ever experienced flow or the only examples that come to mind are watching a movie or playing a video game, both of which can be enjoyable and deeply engrossing activities but don’t necessarily involve creating something new. At any rate, I know you can be highly creative and/or productive without experiencing flow.

Still, it is a nice concept to consider because it feels great to be immersed in a task, to get carried away by it. Dare I say it? To enjoy what one does! For some reason, this is reminding me of a line from a Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza says he always looks mad when he is at work because otherwise people think you aren’t working. It sometimes seems as if it is inappropriate to experience joy and satisfaction from work. Yet I am radical enough to think that everyone should find an activity that generates the experience of flow (or something like it), whether as a profession or as a hobby.

At any rate, I am most prone to experience flow when I’m writing. This fuses a bit with my interest in time management strategies because I have discovered that routine and momentum boost the likelihood that I will experience flow. To paraphrase “Field of Dreams,” if I build it (the space to write), it (flow) will come.

This also explains why I love writing first drafts the most. That is when I am most likely to get lost in the moment. Editing, on the other hand, is not conducive to flow. For me, it’s usually conducive to feeling grouchy and channeling self-doubt, not to mention requiring many stops and starts. On the other hand, writing new drafts without interruptions is when I can get lost in the moment.

When I got my first full-time job as a teacher, during my first (blissful) summer off, I got into a routine of writing first thing in the morning. I was working on a novel, and I always stopped each day, Hemingway-style, with a sense of what I needed to write next. I found the experience so rewarding that I got up at 6 am without hesitation. I just couldn’t wait to get back to the words.

I don’t always feel that same enthusiasm and satisfaction, and I don’t always experience flow when I write, but routine and momentum (and reducing interruptions and ignoring doubt) help.

Prime time

On a day when I have complete control over my time, which does not happen as often as I wish, I am most focused, most inspired, and most productive around 9 and 10 am in the morning.

I can surprise myself and channel my inner busy bee at other times in the day, but really, by afternoon, I’m much more in an eat-chocolate-and-wish-for-a-nap kind of mood.

I have several important projects on my plate this month, so I find myself wishing there was such thing as a day full of 9 am’s—me at my prime, knocking out the words, drinking coffee (hmm, there may be a correlation, coffee in the afternoon is never worth it, sigh), living the dream.

Perhaps I can’t have that, but I can still try to channel that 9 am energy every hour–that feeling that the entire day lies before me, and I am off to a good start.

And perhaps keep the Ghiradeli out of sight.

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Nanowrimo, Day 7

Just a short post to say hoorah that I broke 10,000 words! I’m actually at 11,104 right now, which is about five hundred short of where I should be but life happened so I’m fine with where I am.

I finally tried out a new part of the Nanowrimo.org website. On the same space where you can update your word count, you can now click on a timer and set a timer for a writing session. I know timers are anathema for some, but I often find them a positive focusing tool, so I said, sure, I’ll put in ten minutes now.

When the time was up, a small pop-up window appeared where I could evaluate how I felt, where I wrote, etc. as well as my word count, and then that information also showed up on my stats screen. I love geeky perks like that, so I may try to use the timer more often. Maybe!

Hope your writing and your week are going well.

The writing streak

I promise that I will try to post on something other than my progress on NaNoWriMo, but the start is perhaps the most fun. Even though I have a lot of notes and drafts to guide me, I do not know exactly how my protagonist will move from point A to point B. Writing to discover what I’m writing is so much fun, especially at first.

So, ahem, hoorah for making progress on day three: 5,908 words! The old NaNoWriMo website had a way of making me push to write and update my word count on the website every day because otherwise I wouldn’t earn some of the badges for keeping up a daily streak. I realize that this shouldn’t matter, but I really like earning those badges.

Some of my Nano buddies have noticed that the new website, while lovely, still has a few glitches. One thing that has happened for me is that when I post my word count early in the day, I don’t earn any of the badges, such as the one you get for writing your first 1,667 words, or the one you get for 2 days of writing, etc. But I’ve also noticed that when I go back to update later in the day, those badges appear. I’m not sure why that is, but I thought I’d mention it in case any of you are having a similar experience.

Streaks are a bit of a theme for me today. I spent most of the day just thinking about what I needed to do rather than doing it, mostly caught up in family life of a Sunday. But this evening, I managed to squeeze in ten minutes or so on several projects. It gives me hope that maybe my NaNoWriMo novel won’t be the only project that I work on every day. I need to remember that a little can go a long way.

Which is why, ahem, I also wanted to update my blog. I know I said I wouldn’t be able to post on here every day in November as I did last year, but it turns out I want to keep up with this, too. If I can. If it doesn’t stress me out or discourage me.

It does seem to me that short bouts of writing every day on each of my projects could lead me to good places. At least, that’s the plan for now.

Write on, everyone.

Day 3 writing badge

Day one, done

I am not sure if I will be able to post on my blog every day this month because, as I whined earlier this week, it is going to be a busy month. I thought I could at least come here to say hoorah, I’ve had a good first day! 2,104 words written.

The prep that I’ve done so far has helped. It also helps that I’m trying to ignore the voice in my head that says, um, this isn’t as lively and engaging as you wanted it to be. Too bad, voice. I’m in it for the words.

I have enjoyed finding others on wordpress blogging about nanowrimo. Celebrating everyone’s progress is part of the fun for me. Or encouraging you not to worry if your word count isn’t where you want it to be–trust me, I am not sure any of the words I wrote today will still exist whenever I complete a final draft of this novel!

I like what they are trying to do with the new nanowrimo website, but it feels like there are still some parts of it that need work. That’s okay… it’ll get there.

To those of you who like to write, write on!