The Writer’s Life exercise #1

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I’m teaching a creative writing class at PCC right now. I thought I would share my “homework” here, since a lot of readers of this blog don’t live in Portland where the class is offered. I teach the class Thursday nights, so each Friday I will post up the writing exercises we did in class. If you follow along for the next six weeks in a notebook of your own I believe these very simple exercises will help you to get what you want out of your writing practice.

The first three exercises are about how to build a strong writing habit. The last three exercises are about finding ways to get your writing out there and to connect to an audience.

Writing is like anything else, to get good at it you have to practice regularly. If you wanted to become a good chef you would cook a lot, if you want to run a marathon you would run a lot, if you wanted to learn how to play a guitar you practice. Writing is the same way. Don’ think that you can become a good writer by just writing when you feel inspired. You become good at something by doing it on a daily basis. It’s really that simple! To remind me of that truth I have this quote taped above my writing desk.

“Inspiration exists but it has to find us working.”  – Picasso

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If you want some really down to earth advice on how to build a strong daily writing practice you should check out”On Writing” by Stephen King. This guy is a workhorse! You may not want to write Stephen King type books, but his practical advice on how to get down to writing is really meat-and-potatos no nonsense stuff. Even the most abstract and ethereal poet could learn a thing or two from King’s dedication to the craft!

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WRITING EXERCISE #1

Okay, now here is the writing exercise. This should take about 15 minutes. I want you to write three paragraphs (Or you can write three pages the length is your call).

  1. Describe a time in the past when writing was going awesome for you. When you felt creative, inspired, happy with your writing. Maybe it is the time when you got hooked on writing. Describe what it felt like, and try to describe some specifics. What time of day was it? Were you writing in a notebook or on a laptop? Really write a vivid picture.
  2. Imagine yourself in the future having a really great week of writing. Describe everything just like you did on the previous page. Where are you writing, how much are you writing, how does it feel to be at the top of your writing game?
  3. Now imagine that you have kept up with your daily writing practice for a full year. Where are you now? Maybe you finished a book? Maybe you have grown as a writer? Describe what you have achieved and how you feel about it.

That is the exercise! Yes, it is simple.But effective, this exercise is the same visualization that athletes use in training. However it is easier for us writers, because we are already good at the writing part! You can use this exercise as often as you want whenever you feel the need to find inspiration for your writing practice.

My year in review

2015 was incredible! A year ago I was still working on DIY Magic with my editors at Penguin. We emailed the manuscript of the book back and forth, working on each chapter page by page. I am really grateful that I got to work with such a great team that helped me bring the book to publication. My agent, my editor and all of the wonderful artists who contributed to the book all brought so much to the table!

When DIY Magic came out in April I was swept up in a flurry of activity that seemed to last all year! Spring saw me busy doing book readings and interviews all over the place. Some highlights included being a guest on Coast to Coast a.m., reading to a packed house at Powell’s city of books (which was extra exciting because that is where I feed my book addiction) and visiting New York to do a reading and visit Penguin.

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In the fall I got to go do a writing residency in Burgundy France at the Chateau du Monthelon where I finished up work on a novel.

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It’s been a packed and wonderful year and I’m really grateful to everybody who has helped me to make DIY Magic happen. Of course nothing feels better than hearing back from readers who have enjoyed the book, that is really what it is all about—writing something that connects with people.

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Being a writer is like being a crazy chef who is trying to cook too many things at once. With 2016 here I am excited about all the different bubbling pots, steaming pans, simmering stews that I have going on the stove top. They should be ready to bring to the table soon!

I am working on a radio show/podcast called The Magic Hour that will air on XRAY FM early in 2016. I am teaching a class called “The Writer’s Life” at Portland Community College. I’m working on the ideas, notes, ruminations that will shape into my next book now, too. 2015 was a milestone year for me as a writer and I am super excited to build on that and explore further in 2016.

The other day an aspiring writer asked me for advice on how to get published. The first thing I told him was to start where you are at and write every day. Write about what interests you and then get that published ( get it out to the public) in any way shape or form you can. Whether that is in a zine, a lit. mag, on a blog, a journal, an open mic. night, whatever. Write it and share it! That’s always the first step.  When I look back at 2015 it will be the year I got published by a big publisher, sure. But I had been writing and publishing things every chance I got for years, with small press projects that I am still proud of. Begin from where you are now, that’s all anybody can ever do. And now it is time for me to take my own advice and get to work on my next book!

I wish you all a happy new year, may you be inspired and have fun!

 

Writer’s Life Class at PCC

I will be teaching a writing class at PCC this upcoming Winter term. If you live in Portland Oregon and want to take writing to the next level you should sign up! Space is limited and I have a feeling this will fill up fast. Here are the details:

The Writer’s Life
Build a daily writing habit and develop practical and powerful
tools to grow your writing practice. Explore strategies for
connecting with the world of agents, editors and publicists. All
genres and levels welcome.
Cascade Campus
THURSDAYS 112
6:30pm-7:50pm
1/21-2/25
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Morning Meditation

A handful of Autumnal leaves scattered

(boring brown, pumpkin orange, rust aflame)

on the meditation table this morning.

A distraction from the usual meditation

thoughts: sleepy worries, hungry ghosts.

 

Oh, but I want to see

the world itself!

The flash of a trout tail

on the surface

Call of geese towards

an unbroken world

This heart once wise

as the stars

You are not bad at anything

Perhaps by now you have heard of the idea of “growth mindset”. It is the idea that your attitude towards facing challenges makes a huge difference in whether you will overcome the challenge or give up. I first started hearing about this a few years back in the context of education. The idea is simple: some children are taught that what matters is effort. In other words it doesn’t matter what grade you get, or whether you raise your hand and know the answer or not, what matters is that you try, and that you learn. From this perspective failure doesn’t really matter, it is a part of the process of learning.

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The other opposite mind set is called fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think they are either good enough based on natural talent or they are not. Fixed mindset people tend to give up a lot sooner when faced with a challenge. If they can’t do something right on the first few tries they give up and try something easier. (Presumably fixed mindset people would be terrible at skateboarding.)

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This difference in mindset is why some people, when confronted with an obstacle just give up, while others keep trying until they figure out how to overcome it. The latest findings in psychology suggest that the mindset we have is a huge indicator in growth and success throughout life. It’s the difference between saying “I can’t do this” and “I can’t do this yet!”

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If you are familiar with this theory then none of this is news. (It is championed by Carol Dweck and seems to be popping up everywhere lately, here is an in-depth article over at Brainpickings.com.) The basic take away is that educators and parents should praise children for making an effort more than for getting the answer right or wrong (which does feel a little counter intuitive at first.) But here is where I think it gets interesting. If you see a chart explaining growth versus fixed mindset they tend to leave you with the impression that there are two kinds of people in the world “growth mindset” people who suceed at everything, and “fixed mindset” people who are just losers!

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Obviously in real life things aren’t that simple. Rarely do we meet someone who claims to be good at everything, or terrible at everything (in fact I would recommend avoiding both of these hypothetical people if you do ever meet them.)

The truth of the matter is that most of us say we are good at some things and bad at others. For example I have always thought of myself as a highly creative person, I am good at certain things like creativity, thinking outside the box, writing pretentious poetry etc. The  flip-side of that is I have often said I am bad at lot’s of practical sorts of things, for example “I am bad at math”, “I am bad at being on time”, “I can’t keep a budget because I am just bad at keeping track of money.” We all do it. We claim we are bad at certain things and that is just how it is. In other words we have a fixed mindset for some things and a growth mindset for other things! Everybody is both sides of the spectrum at once!

Now think about it. This means that we are not really bad at anything! There are just certain things we haven’t had the grit or determination to get good at yet. In other words there really is no such thing as being bad at something, there is, if we are being honest with ourselves, only laziness about getting better at some things. Often when we tell ourselves that we are bad at something, really it is just an excuse to be lazy and not make the effort to do something the right way!

You are not actually bad at anything (maybe you are just a little bit lazy.). Let that sink in for a moment.

Here is an example. I used to lose stuff all the time, I was the absent-minded professor, it seemed I couldn’t leave the house without misplacing my wallet, my keys, losing sunglasses, forgetting my hat at the last place I had sat down etc. I told myself, well that’s just how it is. I am bad at keeping track of things. I can’t help it. Finally after spending a small fortune on hats I decided enough was enough. I bought a hat rack and I bought a small hook to place near my front door for my keys. I made a spot for all of the stuff I had a tendency to lose and every time I left or entered the house I got into the habit of stopping and checking that I had everything. It took time and effort but within a few weeks I had retrained myself to not lose stuff all the time! It turned out I wasn’t inherently bad at keeping track of things I just hadn’t learned how. And telling myself I was just bad at losing stuff kept me from making the effort for a long time!

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I want you to try this. Make a list of five things that you think you are bad at. It could be anything at all, no matter how big or small

  1. I am bad at doing the dishes
  2. I am bad at playing guitar
  3. whatever . . .

Write down five things that you have always just thought you suck at. Now think about what effort would it take to get good at that thing. The truth of the matter is you just haven’t put in the practice to master that particular skill yet. Write down what it would take to get good at thing. The last step is to decide if that is something that you think is worth the time and effort to get good at. You might say “I’m bad at math, and that’s fine, I’m just not interested in it.” But if it is something you would like to improve you can.

If you do want to get good at whatever it is, then cross out the sentence where you wrote you are bad at it, because it is not true. And write down your intention to make an effort to improve at the thing you would like to improve.

And then get started!

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