I suppose in some ways I assumed I was set in my writerly ways, that I wouldn’t really change or evolve beyond producing better writing. Part of my naivety about growth and change as a writer had to do with what I perceived to be my character flaws – unable to write every day or create consistent habits, bound by my inability to motivate myself without external consequences.
I’ve long felt like less of a ‘real’ writer because I don’t write every day. There have been periods in my life where I have written almost every day, so I think I’ve had an added dose of guilt because I know it’s something I ‘can’ do. But the thing I realized is that I’ve had a skewed idea of what writing every day can actually mean.
My point is, I wasn’t looking for ways to change myself as a writer. That was a mistake, but it was a mistake I had to make for a while before I could see the need for evolution. I’ve consistently wanted to be a better writer, but only in this past month have I seen that getting better requires rethinking assumptions and trying new routines. For me, it’s requiring a different lifestyle and new way of conceptualizing myself as a writer.
This idea was echoed in a tweet I saw recently and had a big reaction to:
See, I recently decided that I want to write a novel. And it’s been a weird reckoning of sorts, coming to terms with the fact that I am suddenly interested in doing something I didn’t think I’d ever do. (“I’m not a novelist,” I’ve said often. Or, “I write nonfiction.”) Writing fiction is scary to me, and I’ve loved the work I’ve done in flash form, so a novel just never seemed like a possibility. Until it was. And now I’ve got to “reinvent myself.”
Anyway, coinciding with the epiphany and tweet wisdom is a handful of new habits and programs that I’m feeling very excited about. Without further ado, let’s chat about what I’m doing to take on this new writerly self.
I am… Making Space & Giving Myself Back
The Modern Women Many Moons workbook features a really powerful meditation on the first quarter moon that occurred last week, and it’s all about ending self-abandonment. My read of this was one of those things where it feels like fate that you picked up and read something at the time you did.
One of the themes in that writing was this idea of giving yourself back to yourself, taking up space, and empowering yourself where you need it. I thought a lot about what this idea meant for me and writing, and I realized that “taking up space” is something I really need to work on. It’s unfair to say that anyone in my life is resentful about me writing or taking time for myself, but I have absolutely felt as though I should not spend free time writing when my family is around. This is very ridiculous. I often end up doing nothing instead. I don’t have a very demanding schedule, my kids are teenagers and thus not super demanding (except for when they are) and my husband has never been anything but supportive.
Making space for myself and my writing is something I had to do on my own. For some people, it might be more of a demand from those who don’t let you take up space.
In order to write – to really write and plan and engage – you have to give yourself permission. That’s what I’ve learned. Even if you have to fight or negotiate to get time and space from other external demands, you also have to do the same from yourself.
For many of us, this is the reinvention Ruffin is talking about in that tweet up there. You have to believe yourself worthy of time and space to write and you have to give yourself to yourself.
I am… Writing Every Morning
Oh, man, if past me knew about this she would kick my ass.
I’ve railed against writing every day for a long time, mostly because it has never been something I could do. Last year I talked about letting myself write and how that approach works better for me. But lately I really couldn’t get past the idea that I’d like to have a daily record of my emotions and what is happening in my life. So, I came up with a formula instead of just writing for X number of minutes or whatever.
Each morning I spend only about 10-15 minutes jotting down what I did the day before and how I feel that morning, in addition to anything that comes to me and wants to be written down. Then, since I’m in the process of learning tarot, I pull a tarot card and write about its meaning. This whole process takes up one page of my journal and doesn’t inspire rebellion in me. Is it useful? I have no idea, but something about the act of starting my day with a very tiny bit of writing makes me feel, well, like a writer I guess.
I am… Doing the Couch to 80K Writing Boot Camp
After making peace with my sudden novel-writing ambition, I found myself with a new nemesis: paralysis. I figured out that it stemmed largely from this feeling that I had to have things planned out, like characters developed or an outline in place. Not really wanting to do that coupled with not knowing what that work looked like or what I actually needed to do had me all hung up and I couldn’t even think about starting.
Taking on a big project is super overwhelming, of course, and writers often weirdly believe that just jumping straight in is what everyone just has to do. And for some writers, maybe jumping right in is the best method.
But I decided anyway to just give this program – Couch to 80K by Tim Clare – a try. He addresses that very idea right off that bat, pointing out how rarely we just jump in to anything else in our lives. Writing, he tells us, requires some warmups and some foundation-laying. That’s essentially what the Couch to 80K boot camp does. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes long, and 10 minutes of that is just for writing – very specific, prompt-driven writing that feels frustrating sometimes when he gives the prompt but is actually extremely strategic and smart.
Initially I thought, why am I purposely waiting 8 weeks to start this book? But now that I’m a ways into the boot camp, I can see that this is actually a much more sustainable method. In later episodes, he gets more in-depth with the kinds of writing that will be directly related to writing a novel, but the work I’ve done so far is helping me get out of my narrow scope and see some of the other elements related to this huge project.
Even if you don’t have a specific novel in mind, you can benefit from this program. If you’re trying to get out of a creative slump or generate ideas, I think this could be super helpful. In short, I highly recommend. Plus, Tim Clare has a wonderful British accent and he’s pretty funny.
I am… Disconnecting More Frequently
This is a step I’m forever trying to do, it’s true. But disconnecting right now feels a little more intentional when I think about it as a writer. Facebook is just out of the question for me, and I’ve finally come to terms with that in a long-term way. I’m done with it. Beyond thinking about social media in self-promotion and marketing ways for later, I’m just trying to be online less. And it’s obviously very good for creativity and mental health.
I bring this one up because, again, this feels like a different approach to something I’ve done before. I think that for many of us, reinventing ourselves to be the writer we need to be involves looking at how we use some tools and distractions, and thinking about our relationship to them now and for later.
I am… Pursuing Other Creative and Intellectual Endeavors
Most writers I know I have other hobbies, loves, and habits that inspire them in other ways. I’m embracing mine even more.
For example, I love photography, even though I’m not that great at it and don’t really have any desire to take classes or improve beyond doing what feels right. I’ve been noticing how that love feeds my creative spirit in a way that’s different than writing but that can fill the void when I am not writing. I’m letting photography take over for writing sometimes.
I’m also on a new spiritual path that is giving me lots to learn and new ways of applying what I’m learning. This naturally takes some time and attention from writing and creativity, but it’s been easy for me to see the connections between my spiritual and writing practices, and I look forward to even more of that intermingling and informing.
When I read, I’m more present with the writing (at least some of the time), and I’m adding some goals and intentionality in what I’m reading – like reading more poetry from poets I’m not already familiar with and trying to catch up on some of my TBR pile.
Similarly, I’m paying attention to things that strike me when I read that can help me be a better writer. What’s interesting about this form? How did the author move the plot forward? Why did I love this sentence? While it’s not every book every time I read, I do try to check in with my reactions and observations more frequently.
I am… Anticipating Roadblocks
Another title for this section would be “Know Thyself.” One of the most valuable changes I’ve made recently is really looking at who I am and what that means for me as a writer. For example, after reading an article about Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies, I went searching for the quiz to learn mine. The four personality types that Rubin’s identifies have to do with what motivates us and how we get stuff done. The quiz told me that I am an Obliger – someone who is able to meet outer expectations – but after reading more about the types, I think I have a dash of rebel, too.
Like, I can get things in on a deadline and get work done when required. But if I set a goal but there is no one to hold me accountable, I’ll often fail at meeting that goal. Even if I loop someone in and ask them to hold me accountable, I can usually justify not meeting the goal – the justifications are usually along the lines of, they don’t actually care, it’s a goal I set and asked them to help me out, etc. There’s always the small part of me that rebels against being told what to do, too.
But naming this tendency and thinking about what kinds of roadblocks I face because of my personality helps me think through how I can meet goals or take on new projects. Some of that has been just giving myself permission to do tasks at my own pace rather than setting up deadlines, or acknowledging the disconnect between who I want to be and what I am doing to get there.
A good friend has worked with me using Focusing and Felt Sense for a number of years, and I’ve been using those skills more recently in an effort to address those barriers and hang-ups. When I tune into the different parts of me that want different things, are scared of certain things, or are confused/curious/whatever, I have a different sense of why I can’t get something started or done.
Is all of this sustainable long-term? Is this actually changing me? I don’t know for sure, but I am feeling very hopeful. I’ve known for a while that I need to somehow adjust my thinking about writing, but I didn’t really want to acknowledge the changes I needed to make. I feel more content with my process and my upcoming projects (novel and other things), so I’m glad to be at this place at this moment.