A Hundred Poems (A Thousand Decisions)

Some time ago I mentioned that I undertook a challenge to write a poem every day (weekends off) for as long as I could.  I did this because I wanted to improve my ability to choose just the right words, and use them in unexpected ways, in my writing.  Since creating poetry is like weight lifting for the writer, causing her to focus on form and the tiniest decisions, I decided it was worth the effort.

Six months later, I’ve written a hundred poems.  They are not seasoned or breath-taking.  They are attempts.  But I’m celebrating, regardless of their merit, because six months ago, I had written all of five poems, and showed them only to my children.  There is something to be said for putting one foot in front of the other, of being brave enough to allow oneself simply to be a novice.

This is my celebration.

 

 

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The Ten Minute Read

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Christmas break starts tonight.  Admittedly, it started a while ago for the kids and me, so when I say Christmas break, I mean my husband’s break.  Having him home with us will officially kick off a string of slow, fireplace days, and hot-chocolate-and-murder-mystery nights.  Of course, I’m looking forward to it because it’ll mean memory making and good conversations, all of us together during the best hours of the day.  But it’ll also mean that I can steal away sometimes (while, say, Dad plays dominoes with the kids) and do some serious reading. The long, focused kind. The best and rarest kind, in my humble opinion.

Then, inevitably, the New Year will roll around and schedules will tighten up around here again.  The kids will get back into the rhythm of co-op, extra-curriculars, and youth group.  The days will fill, as well they should, and my time for reading will be limited–again.  As happens at the start of every new year, I’ll be tempted to let library books pile up on my nightstand, unread and collecting dust.  And then, naturally, the longer they sit there, the guiltier I’ll feel because I’m a writer and writers read.  Just ask Stephen King.

I say I’ll be tempted to let those books pile up, but I won’t actually let them.  Instead, I know I’ll have to shift my mindset, once again, about how much time it really takes to move through a few pages of a good book every day.  I’ll have to get over my all-or-nothing tendencies and re-instate the Ten Minute Read (which is to say, reading on the fly).  And to facilitate my goal of grabbing ten minutes increments in which to read, whenever they present themselves, I’ll make sure to

  • Have a book in my purse at all times
  • Have a book (or three) on my nightstand
  • Use my ten minutes to actually read instead of checking social media
  • Rethink the time I spend standing in lines, holding the phone, or waiting in parking lots as excellent times in which to clear a few pages.

All of this doesn’t come naturally to me as I’m a girl who likes to block out large swaths of time to do things that are important to me, and then focus only on those things.  But I’ve realized that if I wait to read only when those large swaths appear, I’ll read twice a year, maybe.  So I’ve learned to embrace the reality that, right now, time comes to me in fragments, in serendipitous slivers.  I can make the most of these pockets, reading a page at a time, or fritter them away.  Sometimes I choose to fritter because it’s just easier.  Increasingly, though, I’m using my minutes to read.  And the amazing thing is that those minutes are starting to add up, and I find that I’m reading a lot after all.

What about you?  Are you all-or-nothing, or do you grab flyby moments to do things you love?

How To Write A Book When You Don’t Have Time

[We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you something a little different].  This is an article I wrote for another website but since I have several writer-readers of the blog I thought I’d share it here.  I hope you enjoy it!

It’s a tired cliché but I’ll break an immutable law of good writing and use it anyway: Writing a book is like having a baby. I should know. I’ve done both. It might be more accurate to say that writing a book is like being in labor every, single day because pregnancy is mostly a passive state.

Writing a book, on the other hand, requires one to bear down and push, sometimes brutally. A writer is a warrior-mother, giving life to her ideas, and her enemies are Time, Distraction and Fear of Having Nothing to Say.  Of course, we writers do have things to say but they are buried back behind the mental furniture of our lives and we must rummage for these thoughts.

The writer-life is sometimes scary, often tedious, and we fear that one day we’ll wake up and be unable to do it once and for all. This is where the real work comes in, especially if our schedules have failed to be as conducive to the honing of our craft as we’d hoped.  It happens.

Others have written eloquently on the virtues of a maintaining a writing schedule as a way to increase productivity. I imagine they know more about writing than I do (in fact, I’m rather sure they do). As a mother who has three children at home during the day, however, I write less like a methodical monk and more like a ninja ready to take someone out.

I cannot fully rely on a set time to write each day nor can anyone promise me that I won’t be interrupted when I do. I can almost guarantee that each day will unfold somewhat different from what I’d envisioned, in fact. But I write anyway, sometimes in snippets, and with a determination much like the kind I felt when the nurse told me the baby’s head was “right there” and that it was time to push.

There’s no waiting around for inspiration in situations like these. You take a deep breath, position yourself, and get it done. Writing in short, intense bursts may not appeal to every writer but it can be beneficial for clearing mental cobwebs and outrunning one’s inner editor.

And speaking of that editor, I know there is a time for her.  Unfortunately, though, she’s the one who whispers that we aren’t real writers, that we have no clue what we’re talking about, that we’re crazy for thinking of trying to put words on paper. There is a time for her, but it’s when we’ve finished a project and not before.

Writing faster than the speed of thought can be the thing that allows a writer to outrun her. Not all writing from these sprints is good, of course. Some of it is, however, and those of us with less-than-ideal schedules can accomplish much when we write in short, frantic intervals. It’s how I wrote an 80,000-word novel, one hour-long stint at a time.

Grabbing a moment to write when a moment presents itself isn’t Zen. It’s schizophrenic, I admit. It’s a little slice of insanity reserved for moms and people with day jobs, and I’m always imagining that there will come a day when I become a fully mature writer. That will be the day when I have a set writing schedule, when I’m (mostly) peaceful inside, a day when I drink fair trade coffee in an office with built-in bookshelves.

I’ll wear tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses and I will have come from the gym so my thighs will be toned. I won’t be scratching ideas down in a $1.99 notebook with a number two pencil that day. My kids will have grown and made lives for themselves and my house will stay tidy for long stretches.

On that day my thoughts will unfurl in outline form and I will click away on my high-tech, silver Mac. Until then, I write. Oh, I write, pounding words out in powerful contractions. And somehow, I’m still getting it done, though it’s messy and there’s occasional screaming. The moral to this little story is to write when you can, write fast, write crazy, and edit later if you must. Above all, grab the moment when it comes, take a breath, and get it done.