The Artist’s Way

No words yesterday. None, zip, nada. Zero.

But! My kitchen is 99% done. I still need under-cabinet lights and, more importantly, to eliminate the wires sticking out of the walls where those under-cabinet lights will get installed. Plus, possibly, a tile back-splash, the cost of which rather makes me question the need. But the microwave is up and the sink has been re-plumbed (because of a persistent minor drip). Everything got to come out of a cupboard and then go back in.

Also lots of household chores done, from laundry and clean sheets to dusting, including paintings and windows sills and baseboards, some vacuuming, sweeping the back porch, much dish-washing, in coordination with healthy cooking, of course. Also multiple dog walks, some extended playtime with dogs, and yoga. And there the day was, gone. It was 9PM and I thought about writing, but… I didn’t do it.

I did, however, spend some time reading The Artist’s Way. I’ve had this book recommended to me multiple times and, in fact, came very close to doing a group therapy workshop centered around it, but every time I picked it up, I got stuck on the spirituality involved. The author is in recovery and she’s a higher power person, by which I mean a believer in an active, involved, interactive creator. I’m… not. Not so much, anyway.

Maybe that all comes down to parents? My parents were present but strongly encouraged independence. A skinned knee might get a band-aid, but the band-aid probably came with “you’re fine, go play” and chances were probably good that before that came, “you know where the band-aids are.” Three kids under five and boo-boos get short shrift. It’s strange to try to imagine how very young my parents were back then.

At any rate, The Artist’s Way author believes in a benevolent creative force working through us for positive growth and I kept getting stuck on my inability to buy in to that. Do I find the punitive Old Testament God more plausible? Well, yeah, kind of, I do. Or God as love, sure. But God as creation? As a force of creative energy focused on art? That seems pretty idealistic in a world that includes fungus and cancer and tooth decay, slime molds, termites, gangrene… and, you know, dozens of other things that involve decay, destruction and death. Yesterday, however, I managed to shut up the questioning me long enough to break through and get into some different territory and there’s definitely some good stuff in that book. I’m going to have to work on at least accepting the spiritual side — pretending I believe until I believe or until I can’t pretend any more — and give the other aspects of it a try.

One of those aspects is to write Morning Pages every day. Three pages. It irks my analytical side that it specifically says three pages, but doesn’t offer a clue to what size notebook you might be writing in. Three pages on a yellow legal pad is a hell of a lot compared to three pages in the kinds of journals I used in college. But these Pages (yes, I capitalized again on purpose) are the starting place of this book’s approach to developing creativity, and I’m willing to go along and give it a try. So I’m revising my Write Plan — which I’m allowed to do, since it’s my plan — to start each day with Morning Pages. They’ll count as 350 words of my word count goal, because yes, I am obsessive enough that I did manual word counts on this morning’s pages and my loose-leaf notebook gives me room to write about 115-120 words per page.

After one day, I can’t say that it feels like I’ve unleashed great wonders of creativity, but it did give me room for some interesting thinking, as well as some satisfying metaphors. No one is ever supposed to read Morning Pages, including the author of them. They are written and then the page is turned and filed away. And they are written in longhand, with no corrections. The idea is to be setting your writing free and since that is definitely something I need, I’m willing to give it a try. But I pointed out in today’s pages that I was convinced a Creator couldn’t be a snob, since he/she/they’d created snot and farts as well as sunrises and starlit skies, and I want to remember that thought, not lose it to the swamp of spew that the Morning Pages will inevitably become.

Last thought before I go do something useful… yesterday, for Valentine’s Day, I had leftovers for dinner. This is a literal truth. It’s also a technical truth. And yet, what I had was a starter of prosciutto and melon, followed by a salad of mixed salad greens, avocado, and white radish, sprinkled with lime juice and Himalayan pink salt, and finished with a grass-fed beef burger accompanied by avocado slices and garlic-salted sweet potato fries.

prosciutto and melon image



And what different stories can be created from that one reality! Poor me, leftovers all alone on Valentine’s Day. Lucky me, delicious gourmet dining in peaceful solitude. (Well, as peaceful as it gets when three dogs are staring at every bite taken.) Both true stories, but so different in their emotional weight. For me, the latter story is really the true one. I was quite pleased with my dinner last night, and loved the process of going from, “Hmm, what am I going to eat? I should really finish up those salad greens and that radish and … I guess I should clean out the refrigerator. If I peel this sweet potato and cut out the bad bits, I can use that. Ugh, this melon has dripped on the shelf…” to the moment of sitting down to my fancy dinner on my great-grandmother’s china and then remembering that it was Valentine’s Day.

Back to the writing thoughts: I’ve hit my word count for the day, so I’ve got writing sprints to do with fiction. Two of them. Today is the day where I break my chain of fail and start my chain of success. (That belongs on an infomercial for a motivational speaker in its level of hokiness, but — as the Artist’s Way author might say, people in creative recovery have no room for snarky self-doubt, so motivational self-talk it is!)


Being productive in the right (wrong?) direction

I picked up the mail while walking the dogs this morning. (1.5 mile walk, that I did not record on the annoying mapmyrun app. That thing is getting deleted from my phone in the very near future, because it is seriously annoying to be woken up by a beeping phone informing me that someone in my Facebook network just completed a work-out. I thought I had it set to not give me alerts, but apparently this news was so imperative and pressing that of course I would really want to know. I barely even want to know about my own exercise, much less someone else’s. Deletion coming soon, maybe even tonight.)

Anyway, I picked up the mail, and yay! The final paperwork from the insurance company was there, so I spent a chunk of the morning dealing with that. The personal banker kindly suggested that I might want to look into a line of credit should this ever happen again and while I appreciated the suggestion — I did, it was a good suggestion and she was undoubtedly right — all I could think was no, no, no, never let this happen again. My house and I are going to decline into shabby old age together, never letting work people through the door again. Well, except maybe for very soon to get the microwave installed again, because it’s still not. And the under counter lights that I don’t have. And the tile backsplash. And perhaps a new front door, because the wood in the old door jamb is rotting. Sigh. I suppose never is idealistic.

Also in the mail, not so yay, a notification from Honda that my air bag is dangerous. Like dangerous, dangerous. Shards of metal impaling your passenger kind of dangerous, because of the specific years of the car and the living in a humid client. Gah. I thought I’d already dealt with that.

So first bank, a certain amount of time, second bank, very quick. Came home and went online to do some exciting (not really) bill paying. Called R to find out what sort of schedule would work for dealing with the car, plus also warn him that no one should be riding in the front passenger seat. Discovered that he’s having computer problems and hoped I could help him with a new battery. Seemed to me to not be the most sensible plan, given that his computer has been a problem for him for a while. Called Honda to schedule the car repair, discovered that I was right, I was done. Went online, found out that I had my last tax form. Finalized my taxes. (Are you bored yet? I’m bored.) Spent some time researching computers for R, exchanged a few emails.

Suddenly, it was noon. I’d missed yoga, I hadn’t done any writing, and I had totally forgotten that A Lonely Magic was free today, so I hadn’t bothered to mention it to anyone. ARGH. And I was tired.

Yesterday, I was also tired. I wound up writing 1K words, but not doing a writing sprint and not having any of the words been fiction. And no yoga, either. Oh, but kayaking was wonderful. Really lovely. Being on the water was so peaceful, and being in control of my own boat was terrific. But I’d expected today to be a great day as a result of that, and instead I took all of that great energy and dumped it into terrible, boring, bureaucracy kinds of stuff.

Eventually, I took the dogs for another walk (again, 1.5 miles), made myself a delicious dinner (bacon avocado burger, no bun, yum), managed one writing sprint of about 30 minutes that netted me 275 words, which are good words except that they don’t continue the scene that I was working on, which means eventually they’ll have be smoothed over and probably won’t survive as written, and did 30 minutes of yoga.

But it wasn’t 1000 words. Sure, lots of useful stuff done and I ought to be able to appreciate that. But here it is, Friday night (specifically 8:30 on a Friday night) and I still appear to be a little confused about the primary job in my life — write, write, write, darn it.

That said, I’m on the verge of giving myself a break. Well, not really a break — these were stupid words, but they were words and there are enough of them that… almost? Not quite? Yes! I have broken 1000 words written today (barely, I admit) and now I’m going to go play WoW and enjoy the rest of my evening. And tomorrow, I will start again, because this is a good productive zone, even if it didn’t include all the words it should have included.

Writers Write

Last night, I was headed to bed when I realized that I was tired. Really tired. Tired like I haven’t felt recently. I immediately started analyzing my diet — where could some gluten have snuck in? Did I have soy sauce with gluten in it? Had I eaten salad dressing?

And then I realized that I’d walked four and a half miles, done thirty minutes of yoga, cooked a serious dinner, driven to the airport, run errands, done some concentrated writing and stayed up too late. A year ago, that day would have wiped me out for the next three. So maybe I was just tired. But yesterday was a productive day.

I didn’t write enough words of fiction, surprise, surprise, but I did break my 1K word count. Today is the day that I’m supposed to take it up to the next notch of my Write Plan, so I need to go back and figure out what that was. But I definitely give myself credit for two writing sprints yesterday — more or less. I started them, but got engrossed enough that I lost track of time. All of the absorption wasn’t in the words, unfortunately — I did spend some time researching silly stuff on the Web and pinning clothes to my pinterest board (Grace’s clothes, mostly, although I stumbled across some Sia Mara styles, too). But enough of it was that even though I didn’t hit my 500 word goal, I’m okay with what I accomplished.

Today’s goals: 500 words of fiction — this is the official goal of Week 2 of the Write Plan, but at least one writing sprint of 30 minutes, preferably 2. Oh, and overall, at least 1000 words. I’ve got plans for today — yoga at the Y, dinner with the Orlando Indies — plus C is away, so I’m managing three dogs instead of two. They’re like kids in that the chaos rises exponentially instead of linearly, but also like kids in that it doesn’t actually get exponentially harder, just more chaotic. At any rate, I expect interruptions, but it’s an achievable goal.

Fingers crossed that when I open up yesterday’s file, I still like the words in it. I did realize, too, that’s it time to go back and refresh my memory on everything I’ve written before, but I think I will leave that for a Friday or weekend task. Or maybe even next week. Even if the words I’m writing now are not the most perfect flow of words in relation to the ones that I wrote before Christmas, at least the flow is starting to happen. I don’t want to throw it off.

And now… time for a sprint. Thirty minutes, three hundred words. I can do it!

Edited to add:
Writing Sprint 1: yWriter claims that it’s 485 words. I might even believe it. But I got stuck on the stupidest thing — the name for those little pouches of ketchup and mustard that you can get a fast food restaurants. Pouch seems wrong, but what’s the right word? Still working on that!

Re-edited to add: Packet, of course! They’re called packets.

Tracking my goals

Yesterday — I did good yoga. The dog got a good walk. And I did write over 1K words by the end of the day, but every writing sprint got interrupted and the fiction words were stupidly agonizing. If I’d pushed just a little harder, I might have hit my goal of 500 words, but instead I was at something like 420. Plus, annoying myself, revisions on some of the ones that I’d written previously. That’s a bad habit that I really need to break.

Today’s goals — two writing sprints. Five hundred words of fiction. A thousand words overall. Also taking C to the airport, running a couple errands, and having dinner/library time with my niece in the evening. That means I need to be focused about both the writing and the yoga, because my time is going to be chopped up and disorderly. (Can time be disorderly? It feels like the word that best describes the minutes grabbed between interruptions, but maybe there’s a better. I’ll ponder that question while I’m driving to the airport!)

Two things that I’m struggling with in Grace right now — too many characters with too many points of view, and too much story. I realized while walking this morning that I’m having the same problems with both Grace and the wedding story — sort of that there’s too much going on but more that I’m letting there be too many core stories. The heart has to be with one character/couple, one main plot. All the other threads are rightfully subplots. But at the moment, all those subplot threads are too strong, too dominating — in my head, as much as on the screen, because that’s part of why it’s so hard to write. Anyway, hoping that realization helps me clarify my ideas and focus on the core story. Maybe the reminder will make these writing sprints a little more productive!

Successes and failures

Both days this weekend I wrote a thousand words. Alas, not words on my story, but still words. No writing sprints, though. On Saturday, I started one, just in time for the guys working on my kitchen to show up. On Sunday, I had good intentions for most of the day, but I was doing many other things and eventually it was 10PM and I hadn’t done it.

So not perfect on my Write Plan and technically, I have broken my chain. (If you’re not familiar with Jerry Seinfeld’s chain technique for motivating himself to write every day, you can read about it on lifehacker.) I’ve never used the chain technique, because you actually do need a big calendar on which to mark off the days for it to provide the proper level of motivation. When you can’t see the chain, its ability to work on your subconscious disappears. But — hey, actually I did write every day. So my chain is not totally broken. Either way, though, while I didn’t perfectly meet my goals, I did work toward them. And I did a lot of other stuff, too — finishing the kitchen organizing and cleaning the bathroom and walking the dogs and so on. I’ll give myself a little credit.

Plus, as always in good news, today’s a new day and I get to make today be the kind of day I want it to be. Z and I did a two-mile walk this morning and I finished straightening up the kitchen, washed some dishes, ate a healthy AIP-friendly breakfast of smoked salmon and avocado with a little lime juice and pink salt… boring stuff, yes, but the kind of boring stuff that keeps life feeling orderly and sensible. Now all I have to do is open the file and get started…

Why is it so hard to open the file and get started?

I feel like Grover worrying about the monster at the end of the book. Do not open that file! There is a monster in that file. No, no, do not open it. But the monster’s just … words. And me, trying to make new words.

Goal for today — two writing sprints, at least 500 words added to Grace. It should be entirely achievable. But maybe I’ll just go call the bank and insurance company first.

Those Days

It’s 9:20 and I can already feel it turning into one of those days. Not the kind where everything goes wrong — that would be worse, so I should be counting my blessings — but the ones where a little interruption happens every ten minutes and then it takes me another twenty to get back on track again. For example, at this moment, Z is sitting on the footstool, staring up at the top of my dresser, and I’m finding it hard not to pay most of my attention to her. What does she want up there? What is she trying to tell me? This is after she’s been up, down, in, out, had a nice walk (1.45 miles, knowledge provided courtesy of my silly mileage tracker), had breakfast, had a treat, up, down again… what is she trying to tell me?

I need to decide that the answer is nothing and start ignoring her, but my inability to do so is what makes it one of those kinds of days. Focus is in short supply, brain fog is plentiful.

Hmm, I should note that yesterday I failed to manage diet perfection. I went to Panera to meet a fellow author. I picked Panera because it was a convenient location. But oh, I’ve turned into one of those nightmare people, torturing the wait staff. Panera has a hidden menu that you can ask for items from and I believe that all the items on it are gluten-free. But they’re not nightshade, dairy, nut free. I thought they’d have it written on something that they could hand to me but instead the poor sales clerk had to read through every item on the list. As soon as an item had three things in it that I couldn’t do, I’d reject it and we’d move on, but it still took a while. By the time we were done, I couldn’t handle the drink options, so I took green tea. It turned out to be sweetened. It also turned out that the meal option I took did have something in it that I shouldn’t have been eating — pesto, which has pine nuts and Parmesan in it. (I think of pesto as basil and olive oil, but it is a bit more complicated.) Total bad foods: caffeine, sugar, nuts, and dairy. Ugh. I should have just had a chocolate chip cookie and enjoyed my diet failure.

Anyway, possibly the brain fog, easily distracted, hard to get back on track morning should be attributed to some food that I had yesterday. Ideally, someday I will reach the point where small amounts of foods that are problems for me won’t cause reactions, but first I have to make it through a phase where small amounts cause big reactions. My poor immune system works much too hard.

Some of the distractions were fun, though. Yesterday Grace apparently gained a kayak and Noah turned into someone who used to kayak. I know exactly where that idea comes from — a conversation with a friend a few weeks back that has stuck in my head. We were talking about scuba diving specifically. He used to go diving and hasn’t done it in years. Misses it, but doesn’t make the choices that would bring it back into his life. I feel that way about sailing. I loved sailing when I had the chance to do it in college and post-college. Being on the water was the best. But in the years since, I’ve never tried to prioritize that, never tried to make it part of my life. Now, admittedly, sailing is complicated and expensive and it wouldn’t be easy for me to somehow become a real sailor at this point. But there’s definite romance in the idea of meeting someone who restores something you loved to you. And in the context of the scene I was writing, it felt natural and sort of exciting.

Except I don’t know anything about kayaks. How does one refer to a kayak? If you’re the kayaker, and you’re leaving the house, are you going for a row? A ride? On the river? So one little line in my story turned into a language research project. Now, I have some experience with these language research projects — it’s easy to spend hours and hours online reading and getting confused when a simple conversation with a person with some experience would take five minutes and get you everything you need. Generally, I still wind up doing the hours of research, because when it comes to language exploration, efficiency is not my hallmark trait.

But yesterday, my research led me right away to a place that does kayaking tours in central Florida. Only an hour north. And reasonably priced. And they do manatee tours. And they had openings next week on a day where the weather is supposed to be good. And… and… and… could I really just impulsively go off by myself and go kayaking? While I was mentally debating, feeling very much like I wanted to and equally much like perhaps that was just a little too far outside my comfort zone, I was also texting with Lynda, who said, “Let’s do it.” So yay! Next week, Lynda and I are going kayaking. We will see manatees and birds and probably get wet and possibly be cold and have a good outdoor adventure in FL.

Even more fun, the kayak people asked if we wanted single or tandem kayaks and I went with single. It’s listed as an easy ride and it’s a Florida river, not the ocean or anything, but I’ve never gotten to be the solo person in a boat in my entire life. Next Thursday there will be no yoga — just boat paddling, where I can see whether my yoga muscles actually work in real life!

And speaking of yoga, it’s now time to head to the Y. Oops, no writing spring this morning. I will have to do it/them later on. But maybe I’ll be more awake, then.

Waking Up Cheerful

It’s 8:30 AM. I’m on my second cup of mint tea. So far this morning, I’ve taken Z for a two-mile walk, (measured, embarrassingly, by my new mileage tracker, called MapMyRun. Every time I open it, I wish to inform it that there will be no running, none — but in the little drop-down menu I can change Run to Nice, Placid Walk. Not really. But Walk, anyway. I’m not sure why I decided to track my mileage, except maybe that I’ve been taking longer and longer walks and I was curious about how far I was actually going. Less than two miles usually is my guess, because today actually did feel like a long walk.)

Anyway, I’ve also made myself a healthy breakfast of salad greens, spinach, cucumber, carrot, white radish, and roast beef, topped with a warm bacon vinaigrette. I concede that parts of that salad are healthier than others — warm bacon vinaigrette is literally bacon fat mixed with vinegar and shallots and since when is eating bacon fat healthy? But hey, spinach for breakfast, that’s always good, right? I’ve also taken out the trash, made my bed, and started a load of laundry. Oh, and sorted through some tax information.

And now I’m ready to write.

Except, um, about what again?

So many stories are playing for attention in my mind. The reason for the long walk was to get a lock on something, anything, some piece of story that I can start writing this morning. Ideally, it would have been nice to figure out what happens next in the scene I was working on yesterday. My writing sprint stream-of-consciousness was because I was stuck — literally, totally blocked — on the idea of what car Grace would drive. It needs to be fun. A fun car. Ugh. I don’t know what cars are fun. I probably wrote 500 words on fun cars and what sorts of cars are more fun than others and what cars say about us — oh, look, I’m doing it again — and it was good, but now I’m waking up this morning to the realization that I still didn’t solve the problem. So does Grace need to drive a car? Well, it would just be easier if she did.

All right, that gives me a little tiny bit of a plan. I’m going to look to decide on the car and then I’m going to do my first twenty minute sprint of the day. Yesterday’s sprints worked really well to get my creativity stirring. I didn’t get a ton of real story words but I could feel myself getting into the world of the story again. Bits and pieces of dialog started simmering. I also found out that I have an extra month to work on the wedding story, which is — I think? — terrific. Ideally, if I manage to get myself writing again, I can spend the next two months exclusively on Grace and then set it aside, writing the wedding story, then come back to revisions on Grace. I think that approach is probably smarter than my continued attempts to work on both things at once (with far too much Precarious Balance and other stories fighting for the mental space, too.) Of course, having extra time might just mean that I screw around and waste it, the way I seem to have wasted the past three months, but I’d rather not be so pessimistic! I wrote most of Ghosts in three months. If I did it once, I can do it again.

I do want to write down some of my thoughts about Fen when I get a chance, though. I’m trying not to think too much about her, but her story is so much fun to me. I’m hoping that the fact that it will have had so long to percolate will make it quick to write when it’s time, but I also keep fearing that I’ll forget some of the twists that pop into my head. My head is so crowded with stories! All right, but thinking about them is not helping me focus on Grace, so it’s time to move on.

Goal for today: discover what kind of car Grace drives and write the scene where she arrives. Do two writing sprints and write another… hmm, 290 words. I suspect that’s well within the range of possibility, given that it’s 9AM.

Writing Sprint 1: 273 words with a few too many bracketed areas where I don’t know what the words really are. Whatever, they were words.

Writing Spring 2: Interrupted at 12 minutes and not going well, anyway. Approximately 40 words, because I revised a bunch of words from the previous writing sprint. Ah, me. But so it goes.

Yoga: Jumped ahead and did the 30 minute yoga instead of the 20. It’s yoga for people who do real yoga — jumping into Wheel (which is too hard for me) and naming poses without describing them. The chances that I can do the longer yoga from this podcast look remote. But the great thing about yoga is that it’s about breathing and doing what you can do, so I stretched and tried and tomorrow I’ll do the same. I breathed well, and it felt good. And tomorrow maybe I’ll pause in a couple of places and see if I can look up the poses online to figure out what exactly I’m supposed to do.