A few days ago, I inherited a sweet little chestnut-colored upright piano. She’s nothing fancy, and badly in need of a tuning, but she’s mine, and she fills my house with the most wonderful sounds.
So, over the course of the past few days, I’ve gotten into the habit of wandering downstairs from my office at interval to spend a few minutes sitting at the piano bench and tickling her (slightly worn) keys to the best of my (rusty) abilities.
These little interludes have gotten me thinking about the value of creative palate cleansers.
When you’re busy, or on deadline, or lacking ample motivation for the day’s tasks, or just generally contending with a lot of work, it can be super useful to take frequent breaks. Little five-minute stretches of zoning out, about once an hour or so, just to keep you limber and energized.
How are them New Year’s Resolutions going so far?
If you’re scrunching your face into a grimace right now, I’ve got a message to relay: it’s OK if you haven’t yet made a heck of a lot of headway on your 2019 goals just yet.
The year is new, and there’s still plenty of time to flex those creative muscles — or to focus on other things entirely.
Maybe some of your 2019 resolutions are about writing. Maybe none of ‘em are. Maybe all of ‘em are, but you feel like a chump because your enthusiasm is already flaggy and flaccid, and life is distracting, and time is short, and death is sure, etc., etc.
I hope you do write. Copiously. But if you don’t, well, I hope you don’t castigate yourself too much for it. Perhaps it’s only because the hour of creation — your hour — simply hasn't yet arrived. Because you're busy. Or you’re young. Or you’re old, but you’re still just not ready.
Ever been to the Louvre in Paris? One of the most ubiquitous sights you’ll encounter in that rambling mausoleum of artistic endeavor is small packs of art students seated on benches and against walls, notepads open, sketching furiously away.
Studying and imitating the masters is a time-honored means of gaining insight into all kinds of visual art forms. Likewise, when you read, you should have your mental sketchpad at the ready. This means reading not only as a reader; but also as a writer. And taking lots and lots of notes.
I never read anything (not even a magazine) without a pen in my hand (you say, “obsessive”; I say, “committed to expanding my vocabulary.”). Some see the habit of scribbling all over the margins of books and magazines as practically sacrilegious, but think of it this way: as a writer, you are sitting down to study every single time you read something. And any student worth her salt had better be taking great notes.
When you find yourself stuck in a rut, even before you attempt to free yourself, your first course of action should be to check the soundness of your wheels.
Four key cylinders keep the writing machine turning: depth of focus, depth of determination, available time, and soundness of habits.
It’s important to spend some time identifying your own habits. We all have at least a few good ones. We’ve all got at least a few bad ones, too. They are our default starting points. Some people thrive on deadlines. Others (like me) turn into catatonic, rocking messes at the thought of pulling even a single all-nighter and instead insist on dragging projects out into blind infinity.
Well, hello, there, gorgeous writer!
I’m kicking off the official unofficial launch of The Writer in Full with a quick-and-dirty blog series I’ll call “The Writer’s 10.”
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share, in brief and casual format, a series of 10 writing habits that have proven particularly durable and useful for me during my decade-plus as a professional writer. And I’ll offer up easy suggestions for how you might put the habit into practice in your daily writing life.
Why? Because earlier this year, I finished another yearlong creative blogging challenge (check it out here) and learned some surprising things about myself in the process
Write long and hard enough, and at some certain distant point, your writing will take hold of you, almost as if by force.
It's as if all the years and days and hours of hard work sum up to the recitation of an incantation of sorts, which if you are lucky will one day float up off the pages and possess you, come over you, take ownership of you, dragging you miraculously along.
But it takes ages, and most folks give up long before the transformation can find root. For the first 10 years or so, you write your work. For the next 50, your work writes you. Take ownership of your writing long enough and it will happen, eventually. And when it does, it’ll be exciting and mystical and somehow even liberating.
Once, when I was a self-absorbed international student in Paris and prone to fits of existential scribbling and diary-keeping, I made a line drawing of Che Guevara in my little black journal.
I copied it from an image of Che emblazoned on to the base of an ashtray I’d picked up in Amsterdam in a few quick Sharpie strokes.
I was quite pleased with the results.
Then I showed it proudly to my French host brother, who so happened to be an art student.
He gave my creation an appraising look, pursed his lips, and announced: “Pas mal.” Not bad.
Oh, I was insulted! And I let him know.
Then, for good measure, I showed the line drawing around to several other friends, regaling them with the story of his unduly scathing review and soliciting from them assurance of my goodness, my talent.
There’s this thing that gets said about unrealized dreams and desires, and it’s this:
if you really wanted it badly enough, wouldn’t you have already made it happen?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
We fail to make headway on our goals for a multitude of reasons having nothing to do with how much you want it: lack of clarity or time, fear, distraction, laziness, neurosis, self-loathing, and unsupportive friends and partners, to name a select few. Failure to progress doesn’t always indicate that a goal is unworthy or untenable.
Sometimes you just haven’t found the time or the means or the place or the simple gumption. That doesn’t mean you can’t.
It doesn’t mean you never, ever will. You just. Haven’t. Yet.
Relax. There’s still yet time, and plenty of it.