Make the Most of It

If some air is good, won't adding more be even better?
If some air is good, won’t adding more be even better?

In a recent article, Greg McKeown examines “The More Bubble,” when we collectively overvalue an asset until the bubble bursts, and as we return to reality, we wonder what the fuss was all about in the first place.  McKeown isn’t necessarily against having more or doing more, rather against having it all and doing it all, and this is beautifully described in Jim Collins’ characterization of “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

At my MFA program, every student was required to submit a monthly reading, writing, and research plan for the semester. Certainly, if needed, changes were permitted, but the point was that the semester did not begin without focus.

I renewed this practice last year with mixed results.  My monthly plans are still too ambitious for the time allocated, but I have learned a lot about what I can accomplish in a day, week, month, or several months. If I carry a task for months with very little action on it, it’s worth evaluating why.  I also consider new tasks a little more carefully.  It’s too easy to get carried away with reacting rather than executing.

But above all, this is helping me be specific about my long-term goals and assess my progress in the places of my writing practice that I am trying to grow. Just as chapbooks are a way to honor my writing, creating and reviewing these plans honor my time and choices.

 

Image by Tim via flickr CreativeCommons

This is Day 17 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

 

Make Good on It

I studied with Jack Grapes in his Method Writing Workshops for several years. He recommended that his students wrote every day and focus on the craft techniques he highlighted in that week’s lecture, then each would read a piece aloud at the following week’s class. At the end of the eight week session, every student had many, most unshared, poems and essays. Then Jack would give the final assignment, asking us to make a chapbook of our writing from the last two months.

Chapbooks!
Some of my chapbooks!

I draft my creative writing by hand.  So creating a chapbook means reviewing my journal, selecting sections I liked, editing them, typing them up, and making a chapbook. Whether done as online self-publishing as a book, or in a word processor then printed, or by scissors, tape, and glue, this a lot of work.

I mean, the hard part, the important part is done, right? The Writing, indeed with a capital “W.” The rest is an arts and crafts project, right?

Well, no.  Not entirely.

It’s not enough for me to write open loop and learn techniques. This act forces me to make another round of decisions about my writing and look at what I carry as I enter my next project or phase of my work. Chapbooks are tangible and are a lovely way to honor the months of writing I just finished – to make good on the time and care I have spent as a disciple to the craft of writing.

 

Image by Sherilyn Lee

This is Day 16 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

 

Make it a Point

Someone once told me, "If it's not okay, it's not done yet."
Someone once told me, “If it’s not okay, it’s not done yet.”

The other day, our friend obsessed over an unconfirmed hiccup that might slightly affect my boyfriend, Grant, but not our group’s plans for that evening. To Grant, the outcome didn’t matter – he was still going to attend and planned on having a good time. Our friend continued messaging at Grant, essentially wringing his hands with worry interspersed with random suggestions that made things far more complicated and inconvenient for everyone. Our friend, bless his heart, wouldn’t let this teensy improbability rest.

“Let it go…” said Grant reading yet another message from our friend on his smartphone.

I smiled because this time, he wasn’t saying this phrase to me.

“You know he’s churning on this because he doesn’t want to worry about solving the bigger problems, right?” asked Grant looking up from his smartphone, then held it up for me to read the latest.

I nodded.

“And this is such a small, irrelevant problem that will either never happen or even if it does, it won’t matter,” said Grant.

I nodded again.

As with most things, it’s easy to observe in others and difficult for ourselves to live in. There is a lesson in this for my writing practice. What are the things I make it a point to do?  Why? No need to spend too much energy on why – it should be evident quickly, else if it isn’t, that is also an indicator.  The key is to identify where and when does artificial urgency, irrational fear get in the way, or even worse, take the lead. Artificial urgency and irrational fear don’t get to be in charge of my writing practice.

 

Image by Scott Akerman via flickr CreativeCommons

This is Day 15 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

Make Ready

Behold the to do list! I love writing them and checking them off. For me, to do lists are backbone, lifeline, and artifact. They are stability, control, and gratification. And, in their lowest form, my to do lists are sometimes, sigh, just a dumping ground.

I know...right!?!
I know…right!?!

I write to don’t lists too.

I even engage at the meta level. I know several reading this post with whom I have shared process and systems. We’ve taken them for road tests, analyzed the results, the pros, the cons. Okay, we’ve over analyzed them. You nodded knowingly, even ached when I told you about giving up my beautiful Franklin planner in an effort to migrate unencumbered across the digital divide armed with nothing but my smartphone. To travel far, one must travel light. And carry an external battery. Oh and a charging cable.

Writers live with homework.  All of the time. There’s no vacation or weekends. There’s always something to do and this can be invigorating, overwhelming, exhausting, and inspiring. So I offer this to you today in our continuing conversation on writing. Look at your writerly self today. Ask her what she wants. What are you preparing her for?  Is it publication?  Is it new work?  Is it an end goal?  Is it a long sustained practice? What habits keep us dutiful to old, outdated expectations?

Then, make ready.  Don’t just write a to do list.  You’re better than that.  Create an irresistible path for the writer you want to be.

 

Image by John.Schultz via flickr CreativeCommons

This is Day 14 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

Make Amends

 

photo credit: http://www.grantpalmerphotography.com
photo credit: Grant Palmer Photography

I’m not just a writer, I am also a roller derby referee.  This is my second year and sometimes it’s hard to be new among such a well-established team of officiating professionals.  And, no, we aren’t getting paid, trust me, no ref is getting rich off of roller derby, but we are professional in spirit and in our practice.  For us, it’s not just about officiating, it’s about doing it with excellence.  Mediocrity is for chumps.

Our training program includes twice per week classes, scrimmages, and performance feedback from our colleagues. One day, one of my fellow refs with ten years of experience said that although she appreciates feedback, no one is a harder or harsher judge of herself than she is.

She isn’t the first person I’ve met who characterizes herself this way.  I do this too.  This is the hardest part — I want to be a better ref, but I’m just not there yet.  Similarly, as a writer, it’s hard to look into the gaps between what I envision and where I want to be.

Cut to another friend of mine who will tell you that he really doesn’t like refs and that I’m probably the exception to his rule.  He likes sports and understands leading people.  He believes that even if people are skilled, knowledgeable, and talented, if they lose confidence, that’s it – they’re finished, done.

As always, my thoughts return to my writing practice.  How do I evaluate my writing realistically without losing confidence?  This is the question I consider on this day of compassion (#1000Speak).  It’s so easy in our hypercompetitive world to tell myself to suck it up, work harder, just write better, but scolding only goes so far. I am not its adversary. It’s time to make amends and show my writing that I support and care for it daily, even the difficult times. I am not only its teammate, I’m its one true friend.

 

This is Day 13 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

How to Make Heads or Tails

Finding our way through writing can be disorienting. Our own feelings, sometimes our very motivation for writing, is exactly what can derail us. Here’s some brief advice direct from one of the masters, Ira Glass, creator and host of This American Life.

In this video, Glass honors what brought us to do creative work in the first place, even our initial vision.  In a profession that insists, no, demands, “kill your darlings,” revision, and constant improvement, this affirmation of our origin as an artist is comforting.  I like his choice of phrase, “body of work,” as if all of this writing actually has a destination, that I am working in concentrated study. He also identifies the specific moment when some artists quit and reaches back to us, to help us forward, as someone who has made it to the other side of his creative work. It’s so easy to feel bad or discouraged and his advice is something that I return to again and again.

 

This is Day 12 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

Make Do

Some days it’s intimidating to jump into the arms race of performance. On those days, the reality of competitive talent out there can cause one to second guess their own or, even worse, stop writing. In the last few months, I have been working with some of John Cleese’s creativity practices.  (More on that later.)  And yesterday, I came across some insight from him – an antidote for those days.

I asked a psychiatrist named Robin Skynner, with whom I wrote a couple of books, how many people in his profession he thought really knew what they were doing. He said about 10 percent…That explained so much.

John Cleese

I had heard different forms of this advice so many times throughout the years, but this is the one that made me nod. This would have made my career in Corporate America a little, no, a lot, easier. Oh the difference between information and wisdom.

So my challenge to you today, no matter how you feel about writing today, is to make do.

make do manage with or with what is available, esp. as an inferior or temporary substitute;

– Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Fifth Edition

Waiting for the ideal circumstances is an excuse.  No matter what the social media feeds say, all of us are writing and creating in an inferior situation and it’s up to us to create despite this ambiguity. Sometimes we crash and burn, but, everyone wings it sometimes.

 

This is Day 11 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of my posts here.

Make or Break: An Appreciation of Philip Levine

Philip Levine, Pulitzer Prize winner and former US Poet Laureate, passed away on Saturday at the age of 87.

“It had started before I went to college. I think I was about fourteen when I fell in love with—I didn’t call it poetry, it was just composing,” said Levine.

As a young man, he worked in a soap factory and then in a transmission factory at Cadillac in Detroit. Levine recited poems on the assembly line where no one could hear him above the noise. He wrote for nearly a decade without submitting his work for publication. “I believed even then that if I could transform my experience into poetry I would give it the value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own,” he said.

His writing speaks to me because much of it is a narrative about people and their work, their relationships with work, and the effects of work.  Regarding work, Levine said, “It never ends. And for God’s sake, try to get a job that you like. Because if you have a job that you like, it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t end.”

He studied at the University of Iowa Workshop, where he met John Berryman and credits this friendship as an inflection point in his practice. “Berryman…was the one who gave me insight into how to become a better poet, and I saw the ferocity with which he pursued poetry. I thought: “I’m going to have to be that ferocious if I’m going to make it.” And I became that ferocious. Poetry right at the center,” said Levine. If something didn’t make him a better poet, he didn’t do it.

My own lesson learned from Levine’s ferocity – either do things that serve your writing or don’t write at all.  Commit fully.

 

 

This is Day 10 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of these posts here.

Make It Happen

In her classic book, “Writing Down the Bones,” Natalie Goldberg says, “My rule is to finish a notebook a month…Simply to fill it.  That is the practice. I am careful not to pass judgment or create anxiety if I don’t do that. No one lives up to his ideal.”  I remember when I first read that back before I decided to become a writer. It was years ago, I sat outside a cafe in Silicon Valley on a metal chair as it made a waffle print on the back of my legs, and on the table in front of me – a latte in a ceramic cup the size of a bowl, a pretty journal splayed to a blank page, held open with a pretty pen. A journal a month? Really? Most days I was a software test engineer, and on that day I was writer-curious, rather than a writer.

Last year, I plucked the half finished journals from my shelves, piled them next to my desk, and wrote in them. I wasn’t in a rush, I simply wanted to write and as I reached the end of each, I remembered Goldberg’s rule. I was indeed filling them, albeit in some cases, it was almost 10 years later. But I pressed on and I was so focused on doing this, that I hadn’t thought ahead to the next step — that 2015 would be the year of the fresh start with brand new journals. I wrote a lot last year, but my win was establishing a daily routine.

Then sometime, Boxing Day to be precise, I started writing, no kidding, every day. Yesterday, I finished journal number three for 2015. This is what 52 consecutive days of writing looks like.

 

Photo Credit: Sherilyn Lee

This is Day 9 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of these posts here.

Fake It Until You Make It

I am the writer who came to the practice late in life. I took the scenic route and by the time I made this decision, writing wasn’t leisurely, I was on a mission. Then, an extraordinary opportunity to attend graduate school presented itself.  But it’s some of the fuzzy nuances between the decision to write and to pursue an MFA that I want to address here.

 

 

At the time, I didn’t know many writers. This was before listicles, social media, blogs, even recreational or commercial internet. How was I going to make this happen? What did I want it to look like? For several years, I was my own guide on a journey I really didn’t understand.

 

Several key things pulled me through those years. First, accepting that I had to put so many words on the wordometer before my writing, my voice, my approach on the page would take shape. Second, developing a dynamic practice that adjusted to the other demands in my life and vice versa. Looking back now, I could have done a few simple things to make this happen faster and better, but, ohhh, I’m here now. Third, was applying what Angela Lee Duckworth calls grit. A path forms organically when quitting is not an option.

 

Developing this muscle memory through these three channels helped me sort out the fantasy of being a writer versus the reality.  But, no kidding, every start is some sort of fantasy, it’s not real and that’s part of its magic.  Go with it, embrace that until you can make your own reality.

 

Image by Denise Krebs via flickr Creative Commons

This is Day 8 of 20 of BlogHer’s NaNoBloPo Challenge for February 2015.  This month’s challenge is “Make,” check out all of these posts here.

 

%d bloggers like this: