creative process, Writing Habits

Write like a runner

Once upon a time, I trained for a half marathon. 

I can vividly remember the day I ran along a lake in St. Paul, Minnesota and hit a personal record of 10 miles.

I had been a runner for a few years, so running a couple of miles wasn’t a big deal. But running double digit miles seemed like a daunting feat. However, I reached this milestone by using a running plan. It mapped out the days and miles I ran. This plan was helpful because it removed the guesswork of how to train.

Instead, I focused on running and caring for my body.

Although I didn’t finish the running schedule because I returned to working full-time, this plan helped me reach a goal of running double digit miles.

In January, I will apply a similar method to writing. I will adapt a running plan that is based on minutes, but rather than running for that length of time, I am going to write for that length of time.

My hypothesis is: I can improve my writing habit by the end of 2022 by writing more consistently and gradually increasing the length of time I write.

I also think this method will help me zero-waste of fringe hours, inspiration and creativity. 

You can easily find running plans online. Search for beginning 5K running plans. Those are more likely to include minutes rather than miles. Here’s the one I am adapting. Scroll down until you see the green calendar with the avocado on the treadmill. 

Beginner running plans have a running day that is a blend of walking and running. The goal is that the person gradually runs for longer spans and walks less. Because I have been writing for a while, I have writing stamina. My challenge is consistency and frequency. My goal is to gradually write for longer spans and for more days a week. 

As I approach the end of the 8-week plan, I will evaluate how I want to modify the plan for the next 8 weeks. I’m a full-time English professor, so certain points of the year are busier than others. It might be more helpful for me to try to write 20 minutes during midterms and finals and 45 minutes during the summer. 

Here’s the schedule I created. Feel free to make a copy and adapt to fit your writing goals. 

If you try writing like a runner, please let me know how it’s working for you. 

creative process, Writing Habits

Zero-waste Creative Life

Zero-Waste is a prominent buzzword of the 21st century. Essentially, it is an effort to replace items that are frequently thrown into the trash with items that can be reused. The goal is to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. I was introduced to this concept by Mariela, an eco-savvy friend. 

Recently, I was thinking about my writing life in 2021 and the thought came to me: what would it look like to have a zero-waste life as a creative? 

What it would mean for me to not waste ideas? To not waste fringe hours that could be used for reading, writing, creating? To not waste writing talent by going weeks without writing or revising? 

What would it take for me to not waste inspiration or motivation? Or lessons gleaned from conferences and workshops? What would it look like to have a zero-waste creative life?

This year, I am going to try to find out. 

I think the most challenging aspect of goal setting has less to do with what goals we set and more to do with how we try to reach the goal. I have some ideas on how I can have a zero-waste creative life. My hope is to share portions of my journey throughout the year. 

I invite you to consider what your life would look like if you had a zero-waste life not of tangible things, like paper towels and cotton pads, but of intangible things, like time, talent and energy?

In 2021, let’s strive to not waste the intangible treasures we have been given. Let’s be zero-waste creatives. 

creative process, Writing Habits

A is for Accountability

Hey, writers!

We began this year talking about how you become the G.O.A.T. writer. We learned that the G is for gateway habit. What’s one habit you can adapt that will lead to other habits? O is for organize – creating a structure or plan for your writing time. 

Today, we’ll review A for Accountability. 

Much of the creative work for writing is done in solitude, and without an impending deadline, it can be easy to drift off course. Procrastination can set in, and before you know it, months have passed and you have not made progress. 

I have found a few strategies to overcome this. 

1. Get a writing buddy

This can be a friend or a fellow writer. Determine your goals. Then, create a system for how your buddy will hold you accountable, the frequency and format of check-ins. Go ahead and behind in some ‘consequences’ for when you don’t meet your goal. 

I recommend having midpoint check ins because they can steer you back in the right place if you get off track. They also can allow you to finish well. For example, let’s say you want to write three times a week. Your writing buddy checks in on Wednesday, and you haven’t written yet. But the check-in motivates you to write, so you write twice before the week ends. On the other hand, if your check-in came at the end of the week, you wouldn’t have a chance to try to recover your goal. You would have to start over the following week. 

2.  Take a writing class

Similar to writing groups, you can find these online or (post-COVID) in person. Some classes are free and others cost. Both can be beneficial. As a writer, you should be growing in your craft and a part of that is learning.

3. Join a writing group. 

I encourage you to find a couple of writing classes to take this year and schedule them. Prices range greatly, but select a class that is affordable for you. I recommend classes from the Loft Literacy Center. They also offer a year-long apprenticeship if you are looking for more one-on-one support. 

Perhaps, later this year, I will do a blog post on how to select a writing group. But for now, I’ll say this: joining a writing group that meets regularly can be beneficial in growing consistency. Some groups meet at public libraries, and some are online. Writing groups can offer motivation, encouragement and constructive feedback. If you join a group, be a good group member by giving as much as your take. 

So those are few strategies to keep you accountable with your writing goals.

Do you have any other strategies? I would love to hear them. Leave them in the comments below.

creative process, Writing Habits

O is for Organize

In a previous post, I talked about how finding your gateway habit is the first step in becoming a G.O.A.T. writer. Now, we are going to talk about the O: organize. 

Let’s be honest: the blank page or empty screen can be intimidating. As writers, we can spend more time thinking about writing or procrastinating and little time writing. Organizing your writing time can help you become a G.O.A.T. 

I want to offer 5 ways for organizing your writing time. Take what sparks and leaves what dulls.

Organize your writing time by studying a poet. 

Pick a poet’s whose work you want to learn from or who inspires you. Begin your writing time by reading and/or analyzing a few poems from the author. Use a few of their lines, titles or topics to jumpstart your writing. 

Organize your writing time by studying a form. 

Learn about the form and view examples of poems using the form. Then, write your own poems in that form. You can also revise a poem to be in the particular model your are studying. 

Organize your writing time around a project. 

I like to work on multiple projects at once. I have a binder for each project. The contents of the binder vary based on the project, but I like to have a few sections in each binder. Typically, I have poems or writing related to the project, research or images. You can read my blog post here on how I organize my projects.

Organize your writing time around a toolkit.

Sometimes I want writing to feel more like play and exploration. I have a box of photographs that I can select an image and write a poem inspired by the image. I also have a writer’s notebook of lines from other poets that I use as writing prompts. I keep a notebook of titles and words I want to include in a poem. When I sit down to write, I pick one of those tools to inspire my writing. 

Organize your writing time around a schedule. 

Create a list of what you plan to do each day. Now, when you write, you don’t have to figure what you will do during each session. Revision and research can be a part of your writing schedule. 

The goal of organizing your writing time is not meant to be rigid or restrictive. It simply to give you a starting place, so that you can do more writing. It’s meant to help you do more of what you love. 

Let me know how you plan to organize your writing time. Leave me a comment. I would love to hear from you. 

Uncategorized

From My Bookshelf: How to Not Always Be Working

One of my personal challenges as a creative is to not have every minute of every day filled. This has been an issue in my late that dates back to when I was in high school. I joined multiple clubs and organizations to be build my leadership skills and to qualify for scholarships. I worked a part-time job at Subway so I could earn money for personal things and save money for college. I remember one week I worked around 30 hours while being in advanced and honors college.

College was similar. Although I was blessed with a full scholarship, I still needed money for life and that required me to work. My habit of being in multiple organizations and constantly being busy continued. I have some moments were I trimmed back. But, I generally am a person who has a compact schedule.

A lot of this seems from working to secure a future and gain provision. I was in school organizations in high school because I was trying to earn scholarships so I would have a better future. I worked in college so my basic needs would be met. Fast forward a decade or so to a culture that is constantly wired by technology. 5 pm is no longer the end of the work day. The world wide web allows us to work from anywhere, anytime, and many of us have not learned how to switch on the off button.

This has caused us to sleep less, eat more unhealthy, exercise less, and we’re definitely not laughing enough. I recently realized that having my time occupied so much meant that my creativity was being drained. My mind didn’t know how to sit before a blank page and let words spill out. I was so used to grinding and marking things off of a ridiculously impossible to-do list.

What I learned from Marlee Grace’s book How to Not Always Be Working: A Toolkit for Creativity and Radical Self-Care was some strategies to stop doing that. One of the recommendation Marlee makes is to decided the place where work will occur and to not do work anywhere else. Many times I study, lesson plan and write from my blue couch. It’s comfortable. I have a blanket, and it’s next to a window. However, I typically am more productive when I am ‘working’ from a desk.

From the book, I realized my brain needs the separation of when I am working and when I am not. That can have a lot to do with location. One of my first jobs was babysitting. I loved working with infants. They were a lot of fun, and they slept often. I noticed that I put a baby in a sleeper or swaddled the baby, he or she instinctually knew it was time to sleep. Once I suggested to a parents of twins, that we not keep the babies in sleepers all day to help regulate their sleep schedule. Believe or not, it worked.

After reading this book, I have decided that the blue couch will be a space to relax and recline. No more working from my blue couch. In Chapter 3, she poses the question: What is not work? This is a good question to ask yourself because we may say we don’t work all the time. But if you’re checking your email frequently or scrolling through social media often, you my friend are working. It’s helpful to define what is work and to set some time restrictions around when you will work. And likewise, it’s helpful to name what isn’t working and to make sure you have a steady rhythm of work and recreation.

When I trained for races, I was pondered the significance that rest days were just as important as run days. And that rest days helped protect me from injury on my run days. Maybe a simple boost to your creativity is not a $500 conference or a $2,000 coach, but for you to schedule a couple hours of rest or recreation.

Chapter 6 encourages us to take a break. I’m taking that advice this summer, and I am not doing any readings, workshops or events in June or July. I want to avoid burning out and quitting altogether due to exhaustion. I want to proactive and care about myself as a vessel of creative. I want to have a regular pattern of taking breaks. Just like rest days are vital for runners, breaks are vital for humans. You can choose what and when your breaks are. I have heard many great leaders say that each year, they schedule their breaks. Take a break on purpose. Not just when you reach exhaustion.

Each chapter has testimonials from other creatives and exercises. It’s a quick read, which is another plus for those who are busy. I borrowed it from my local library, and I encourage you to doing the same. May you find your own method to not always working.