Writing in my Sacred Writing Space

“I am a writer.  Today I write.”  That has become my mantra.  And since I have said that to myself or even out loud daily for the past few months, I have written every day.  Some days it might just be to take notes or rework part of my scene list in my notebook while I’m waiting for soccer practice to end, but usually it’s at 5:30 am, sitting at my computer . . . writing.  I’ve been getting up an hour early before work everyday to write.  Sometimes its tough, but I think in redefining myself as a writer I have to convince myself of the truth of who I truly am.  And to do that, I need to write . . . everyday.  We all carry so many roles and often those are roles that we may not choose ourselves or that may not reflect or define who we truly are or want to be.  It’s pretty exciting to be doing that.  I am definitely enjoying it.

One of the biggest steps I made on this journey toward becoming a writer was to set up a little writing space for myself.  It is not a quiet serene space.  I always envisioned writers with quiet offices that had large widows with lovely inspirational views.  My “office” is a 2’ x 4’ plastic table set in front of some bookshelves.  But the shelves hold all my favorite books!  I also cleared off one shelf to create a “sacred space.”  Janet Connor, author of Writing Down Your Soul, writes about the importance of creating a sacred writing space in her book.  I’m also taking a tele-seminar class with her, and we spent two weeks on this process.  I have objects and pictures that are meaningful to me, that give me my own inspiration.  I also have a candle that I light every time I sit down to write.  I love my space, and it has become integral to this journey.

I’ve even created a writing ritual for myself.  I know what happens when I sit in this space . . . writing.  I don’t pay bills, grade papers, talk on the phone, or any of the other activities my roles as wife, mom and teacher demand of me.  My writing space is in the middle of my busy home and there is no door on it to shut out the world, but even so, it has become a creative “retreat” space for me.  Even though I’ve only had it for four months or so, my family has also acknowledged this as my space.  I have yet to find any Algebra homework on it, and when I am writing, they honor that.  And that I think is one of the greatest gifts of all.  I have defined a space and because I have honored it, everyone around me has too.  That’s exciting – maybe I am becoming a writer!!

Blogs, novels and . . . piles of fabric?

I am apparently compelled to create.  I finished a large scrappy quilt project last night, finally putting the last hand stitches in the binding and the label on the back for posterity’s sake.  I made the quilt for my sister for her 43rd birthday.  It’s a scrappy “fairy garden” for Megan.

My sister has an affinity for fairies.  I love the quilt – it’s scrappy, colorful, and fun.  The design process was especially fun, playing with all the fabrics on my design wall until I felt like the light fabrics reflected the sun shining across the garden just right.  Actually pulling each individual block off my wall and sewing got a little bit tedious, but the entire time I completed this mindless step, my mind wandered to my story.  I would sew, and then grab my notebook to take notes, sew some more, jot down a few new ideas etc.  But I kept viewing the sewing as a hindrance to my writing.  “If I could just get this quilt done, than I can really focus on my writing,” I kept thinking to myself. So last night, when I put those last stitches in, I headed to my sewing corner to clean up the last remnants of this project, determined to put my sewing projects away for awhile.

Finally, now I could focus on my writing as my sole creative endeavor.

But . . . nooo . . . apparently NOT!  That would make my life far too easy.  As I began to tidy up, I spied a really cute quilt pattern a friend gave me a few months ago.  And then I started thinking of another friend who “needs” a quilt.  I spent the next hour perusing through my fabric stash pulling browns, blues, creams, grays, and some unexpected pops of orange and red.  It’s going to be a great quilt!

I kept “yelling” at myself as I was pulling fabric.  “Really Amy, what are you doing?  Remember, you wanted to finish quilting for a while! Do you need to do this?”  But I finally had to admit to myself that it’s the creative process that’s important.  My mind runs a zillion miles an hour, but sewing is almost meditative for me.  I can think.  So maybe that pattern I spied in the corner was God’s little nudge saying, this is part of how you write.  Use it.  Okay God, I get it.  So now, I still have, a blog to write, a novel to plot, and . . . a pile of fabric to play with.

Keep goals a secret or post them for the world to see?

I’ve always ascribed to the “kind of keep them a secret” position.  It’s comfy and safe there.  If I tell people what I am working toward, they will encourage me and push me, but they’ll also know if I fail.  So, I pick and choose who I tell what.  This blog has been a huge step out of said comfort zone to announce to the world that I am joining the legions of people who feel called to write.  My heart was RACING when I made the first post – why?  I was fearful of judgment and failure, when in reality, I’ve gotten positive responses and encouragement from every post.  And, it’s not just my sister and close friends who are reading this!!  That’s pretty cool.

Then, just a few days ago, I was driving and listening to a Ted Talk.  I love Ted Talks, and this particular one was titled, “Keep your goals to yourself” by Derek Sivers.   It’s short – only three minutes or so, but he essentially says that if you share your goals, you are far less likely to succeed.  What?!?  This is because you get encouragement and warm fuzzies just from sharing your goals (like I have with this blog), so your brain decides it’s already reached the goal!

He offers three strategies for countering this:  “you could resist the temptation to announce your goal, you can delay the gratification that social acknowledgement brings, and you can understand that your mind mistakes the talking for the doing, but if you do need to talk about something, you can state it in a way that gives you no satisfaction, such as ‘I really want to run this marathon so I need to train 5 times a week and kick my ass if I don’t.’”  Who wants to get their ass kicked?  Not me, but I do want to be accountable toward reaching my goals.

So now what?  I’ve already put it all out there and shared my goals.  I’ve gotten gratification and social acknowledgement from my posts.  According to Mr. Sivers, the only thing left to do is to state my goal in a miserable fashion for myself, so I’ll just use his marathon example as a template.  Here goes:  “I really want to write a novel, so I need to write every single day – I’ll fail if I don’t.”  And I won’t fail everyone who reads this, I’ll fail me.  That is the scariest prospect of all.

Story world? What happened to plain old setting?

In this whole novel writing process, I’ve learned a whole new term – story world.  What happened to plain old setting?  I teach high school English and one of the basic standards is that a story takes place in a setting ie. it has a place, a time, and a mood.  However, novelists apparently don’t place their novels in a mere setting, they create a world.  I actually like this idea, though I think it’s interesting that the production end of books (novelists) have a different language and possibly even definition of place and time in their novels than the receiving end (readers) – well, maybe not all readers but at least the English teacher types like myself who have to teach literary terms!

One of the loveliest elements of a great novel is to be carried away to a new place, to really live and get a sense of that place and time.  That’s one of the reasons I read.  So I’ve decided that the idea of a story world is much more interesting than a mere setting.  But I’m learning that creating an entire “world” is tough!  It can’t be too vast, filled with boring descriptions, not detailed enough, or full of irrelevant or gratuitous details.  In thinking about this, I’ve decided that great writers make both vast and confined story worlds feel intimate and incredibly relevant to the characters.  A specific character in a great novel just could not experience this story in any other possible place or time.   Can you imagine Scarlett O’Hara in any place or time than the south during the Civil War? Or, Frodo any place other than Middle Earth? I can’t.  Mitchell and Tolkein so beautifully created their worlds that the characters live there, and we can’t possibly imagine them any other place or time!  Now, I just have to figure out how to do that.  My setting is vast and encompasses a journey, so the story world is physically shifting as the main character progresses across the terrain, but she also evolves emotionally.  This adds a whole new element of . . . ack!!!  I have a changing setting that must remain as vast as it is but with relevance and intimacy to the story and the characters.   I think I’m going to put my scrapbooking skills to work this weekend and create a giant map to put on my wall to get started with this world.  I need a visual.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Doing it all – just not all at the same time

I am busy, busy, busy – too damn busy to write apparently.  I’ve been on vacation this week with my family and trying really hard not to beat myself up over the fact that I haven’t written much, if at all.  I’ve spent the last five days either traveling or at Disneyland with immediate and extended family.  In one word . . . chaos.  But it’s also been really fun!  So, I suffered the angst of many Americans – guilt.  Several months ago, I made this commitment to write, but I’ve spent the past week not writing; instead I’ve been riding roller coasters and snacking on cotton candy.

I felt guilty because I wasn’t writing, but then I knew that if I left my family to go sit in the hotel and write, I’d feel more guilty, and I’d also worry about missing out on something super fun.  So, I decided to enjoy my vacation, write if I could, and not feel guilty about it, but it’s tough!

In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert says something about American women living with self-loathing when we eat something fattening just for the pure pleasure of it (or maybe she said it in an interview I saw her give).  At any rate, the whole idea is that American’s have a hard time just completely letting go and enjoying something.   So this week, I decided that writing is a choice I am making, but not something that I will feel guilty about if I miss a day or two.  It is a joy, a pleasure, not a chore.  I choose to write, just as some days I choose to spend time with my family and eat bags of kettle corn for lunch.

I am still a writer . . . I’m just also a mother, a wife, an aunt, a teacher, a coach . . . etc.  And I think I can be all of them and do all of them well.  But when its time to be a mom, I need to be mom.  When its time to be a teacher or a coach and work with my students, I need to be a teacher or a coach.  And when its time to be a writer, I write.  I can do it all, I just can’t do it all at the same time, and that’s okay – no guilt.

April Fool Story Freak

Happy April fool’s day everyone.  Yesterday I ran into a friend at Wal-mart who said that she was going to a wedding today!  Really?!  Who gets married on April fool’s day?  That seems like just asking for trouble.  Maybe I’m too superstitious but April 1 is NOT a date I would pick for my wedding!  There must be an interesting story there because getting married on April fools day must have been the only option.  I’ve always had an internal commentator on life, but now the commentator is telling “back stories” so by the time I left Wal-mart this wedding couple whom I have never met had become a tragic pair who could only marry on April 1 due to dire circumstances – not a great story but now I can’t stop this story thing from happening – ack!

Since I decided to commit to writing, I’ve turned into this freaky narration story person.  Everything I hear, read, or even see is becoming a potential story which my over active brain instantly begins narrating in a weird third person way.

Does this happen to everyone who writes?

At first I wondered if this is normal, but then I realized what’s normal?  And do I want to be normal anyway? I think not.  Maybe this is a sign I’m truly internalizing this whole idea of being a writer. I like that thought – no fooling!  So, I’ll just keep writing (and continually narrating back stories about life to myself).