Tag Archives: The Artist’s Way

Finding Balance – A Daily Task

In Christina Katz’s ezine, The Prosperous Writer, she writes on the 52 Qualities of just that – prosperous writers. This week, she focused on balance.

The word balance pops up everywhere these days — in posts (like this one from Allison Winn Scotch) about negotiating social networking around writing time and in essays (like Sayantani Dasgupta’s) about the plight of the mother-writer.

Balance, for me, equals writing longevity.

Sure, like many others, I juggle writing with parenthood, a day job, my marriage. Toss in time spent browsing Twitter, reading blogs, and thumbing through the pages of a good book. All of a sudden, I look up and see a cluster of balls suspended in the air, and I duck for cover.

In my eyes, juggling is organized chaos. Balance works more like a swinging pendulum.

At one end, I am stuck, not writing: there isn’t enough time, I don’t know what I want to say, I’ll never get published so what’s the point.

Sometimes the pendulum swings to the other end and drops me, head first, into writing. Like a maniac, stay up until the wee hours of the morning, punt on housework and sometimes dinner, ignore the phone because I am busy – writing.

At either end of the spectrum, I don’t function well. When I am not writing at all, I am miserable. When I am writing non-stop, I am self-indulgent and easily irritated when anyone or anything disrupts my flow. And, I am miserable.

What I have learned, is that balance is critical. Not only for my mental and emotional well-being, but for my writing career. If I am off balance, I am either on the verge of “quitting this whole business of writing” because I’ll never be good enough. Or, I am writing so hard that I am sucking the life out of my muse. Then I find myself on the verge of “quitting this whole business of writing” because I’ll never find the time I need to write well.

I love writing, and I need it. But, I also need times without writing to rejuvenate my creativity, to nurture the relationships with the people around me, and to remember what is important in life.

Finding that balance between life and writing is a daily pursuit.

Things that send the pendulum into high swing (and how I bring it back):

  1. Discouraging news about the publishing world or the writing life. I skim these articles or essays. Because, regardless of what’s happening in the publishing world, I love (and live) to write.
  2. Flat responses from friends or family when I talk about writing. Jody Hedlund wrote a great post about this the other day. Some people will just never understand the writing life. My best bet is to find safe people with whom to talk about writing, and plan coffee dates as often as possible.
  3. Forcing a story. Occasionally, I think I have to submit something to a particular place or literary magazine, because, well…they put a call out for submissions. I don’t want to miss my chance. But, that kind of motivation leads to manic writing — hovering over my laptop in a corner, looking like a feminized version of Mr. Hyde.

Things that keep the pendulum close to center:

  1. Posts from writers, like this one from Aimée Laine, that talk about keeping expectations and goals manageable. And, books like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, that suggest weekly artist’s dates: time away from your craft of choice (writing, painting, etc.) to rejuvenate, to refuel, and to return with fresh eyes and a fresh spirit.
  2. An email from an editor that says, Hey, we love your piece and we want to include it in our next issue. After reading that kind of email, I can take a break from writing and indulge in life’s goodness for a while. No, this doesn’t happen as often as I would like, but when it does, I definitely feel close to center.
  3. Trust in a Power greater than myself. Spirituality surrounds every writer. Whether you call it your muse, your genius, or God, something guides us. My job is to take the actions set in front of me: write when it’s time to write, play when it’s time to play, read when it’s time to read. I am not in charge of the results.

I am not in charge. Phew! If I remember that on a daily basis, balance is surprisingly easy to achieve.

What does balance look like to you?

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Knit One, Purl Two, Write 500.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be wishing I had four hands: two to write, two to knit.

With Christmas just around the corner, I am behind – again – on my  gift schedule. This year I have yet to rewrite my list four or five times (whether for neatness or edits). But, with a whole afternoon to myself today, I shopped anyway.

At one point, I stopped at the fabric store and perused the yarn aisle. Drawn to the color and the texture of yarn, I bought more than I needed, I’m sure. While I can’t wait to get to my needles, I approach knitting with caution. If you read my last post, you’ll know why. I’ve decided to knit dish rags this year (safe and easy, they say), and I’ll claim creative license if they don’t end up perfectly square.

On top of enough yarn for a stack of rags (hope my family plans on doing a lot of dishes), I also committed to write 500 words a day. Thanks, Debbie Ohi, for the challenge. The badge is up. With today’s 500 under my belt, I’m on my way.

In Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, she writes that creativity presents itself in many different ways. All we have to do, as artists or writers or knitters, is open our mind to the Spirit (or muse) that guides us. 500 words a day doesn’t sound like much, especially when you’re just coming off of NaNoWriMo, but it still means sitting down and writing or editing 500 words on one story or another. I hope, in knitting dishrag after dishrag (boy, that’s an unappealing cluster of words), one creative endeavor will influence another.

Writing as Evidence

Every few days, the little voice inside my head confronts me with the same question: why write? What follows is a brief battle between several pros and one very strong con – you’re wasting your time.

Julia Cameron devoted an entire book to debunking that creative crusher. Plenty of well-known writers have published their own essays on “why I write.” Margaret Atwood lays out her reasons in her book, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. * After a page and a half, she refers to monetary reasons only once. And, so much of what she says speaks to my own writer self. She writes:

To set down the past before it is forgotten.
To excavate the past because it has been forgotten.
To produce order out of chaos.
To say a new word.
To justify my own view of myself and my life, because I couldn’t be ‘a writer’ unless I actually did some writing.
Compulsive logorrhea.
To cope with my depression.
To bear witness….

To bear witness.

Sometimes, I write to unravel my past.  I write essays about experiences that hold me hostage, still. Words fall onto paper, and I see the event with more clarity. Even when I write fiction, I scatter pieces of me throughout. The characters differ, the details vary, but the rise and fall of emotion mirrors my own. I revisit the pain, dissect the details, and find resolution. Once in a while, I even let go.

I may never get paid for one story. That novel might never make it to the galleys. But, I still have to write. If I succumb to my critic who says I’m wasting my time, I will forget the experiences I want to remember. Or, I will fester in the haunts I wish to forget.

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* Margaret Atwood. Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Copyright 2003 by Anchor Books (isbn 1-4000-3260-1)

Finding my focus

A little over a year ago, I decided to investigate my passion for writing. Actually, I was kicked into gear by a good friend. She heard me complain, just about enough, about someone else’s pursuit into writing.

“You know, you’re just jealous. Why don’t you take some action for yourself?”

Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but I remember jealous and take action. I started off with small commitments: work through The Artist’s Way, start a blog. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, thinking what have I got to lose? Then, I passed the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word benchmark, and I fell into a frenzy of sorts.

I took two online writing classes with Ariel Gore, back to back. I submitted several pieces to lit mags, reworked a few more, joined some writing sites, started another blog. Been reading on writing. Been staying up too late.  Shut down my laptop after midnight, only to open it five minutes later to change the last line of a late night blog post.

In such a frenzy, I lose sight of my reason for writing (not to mention, sleep). So, I recently made a list of my little successes in one short year. I held off on submitting a few pieces that, a week ago, I thought I just had to get out there. And, I honed in on this quote yesterday:

Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.” –Orin L. Crain

I don’t know anything about Orin L. Crain. But, I love this quote, and this gentle reminder, that becoming a writer is only a race in my mind.