By: Deb McLeod
Last month I promised a road map to achieve the Zen of Writing. I’ll waste no time getting to it. Here is the answer in four simple steps:
- Act as if
- Master the art transformation
- Structure your life
- Defeat the virus of fear
Act as IfActing as if something is already here opens the pathways for that thing to come. Is that too woo-woo for you? Here’s a story: Once upon a time, in a between time, my husband and I were very poor. By between time I mean between jobs. We were so poor I had to be a coupon-clipping, penny-counting, budget-checking miser to make ends meet and we were sinking fast. Something had to change.
I was talking to a friend about this coupon system I found that was saving me a lot of money. She asked some questions, giving me the opportunity to brag about how little we were able to live on.
She looked at me, puzzled, and asked a life-changing question. “Are you sure that’s something you want to be good at? Living on next-to-nothing?”
Actually, no. I didn’t want to be good at living on next-to-nothing. I wanted to be good at living on abundance.
Her question started me on a new path. I began focusing on what we did have and not what we didn’t. I began a gratitude journal. I stopped coupon clipping and all the other money-saving things I was doing. I worked on really believing. And things changed.
The woo-woo answer here is that I changed the energy of what I wanted to attract into my life. The right-brain, reality-based answer is that the political climate changed and environmental jobs opened up so my husband got work. My focus on abundance simply made the time more pleasurable while I was waiting.
Of course I believe the woo-woo version, but either way, if you act as if right now, you will get where you want to go. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the experts – start with Wayne Dyer.
I have a friend who was an oncologist. When she transitioned out of that field and into creative writing, the first thing she did was go out and buy some writer-type clothes. She wore them, started acting as if she already was that capital W Writer. She pulled on the identity and the identity became real.
So what are the elements that would help you act as if? Maybe it’s clothes. Maybe it’s writing a little bit every day. Maybe it’s hanging out with writers. Going to conferences. Joining a group. Maybe it’s calling yourself a writer when people ask what you do. Maybe it’s an assumption that you have something to say and the ability to say it.
Master the Art of TransformationStories transform. They often depict characters who transform throughout the story. The reader is transformed by absorbing the experience of the story. The writer is transformed by writing it.
Seeing life as story
Are you a narrativist? Do you see your life and the lives of others as stories strung together? Can you look back on the events in your life and see their beginning, middle and end? Can you see how the major events have shaped you as a person?
In my world, life is a series of growth periods. Lessons presented, accepted, worked, and absorbed. There are financial growth periods, relationship growth periods, health, parental, work or career growth periods. We’re all learning all the time. Every time something new enters your world, you’re in a growth period learning to master whatever you need to in order to move out of it. And into the next one.
Standing to the side, as observer-you, with practice, you can see what your growth period is and where you are in it. Simply knowing that makes it more manageable, to be sure. But studying growth periods, yours and those people around you, primes you to create them on the page. And stories are about transformation.
In life there is no real “sense of an ending” in our growth periods or our stories. Some say that’s one reason people read, to get that sense of an ending we don’t experience in life. Readers want to see transformation on the page – whether the character transforms (comedy) or doesn’t (tragedy), it’s the container of transformation that attracts.
Structure Your LifeLook around your world. Does writing come last? Is it the first to go when you get busy? Are there so many reasons you can’t write that acting as if is impossible? Granted there are times when you really can’t write. There are only so many hours in a day. And, if you’re going through a heavy emotional time, it’s also possible that sitting down with your thoughts is the last place you want to be.
But I contend that even during those times, it’s important to see how you might put your writing toward the top of the list. Small steps. Look for boundaries you can erect around your time. Look for writing solutions to deal with emotional pain.
Discover what rituals work for you to get into your writing space. Carve out a the time and a space. Find 30 minutes in a day, even if it means getting up early. Set a schedule. Put a sign on the door like I did when my daughter was old enough to read – Fire or Blood. When the door was closed as it was for an hour or two a day, I wasn’t to be disturbed unless there was fire or blood.
Prepare your family. Writing necessitates communion with the self. And that means you have to withdraw from what’s going on with family, friends, internet. My solution has always been to write early. When my daughter was young, I wrote in the middle of the night, when no one needed me for anything. I napped with her later.
When you’re ready to take your writing life seriously, you will start to put your writing, if not first, very close to the top. And you won't really be serious about it until you do.
Defeat the Virus of Fear
- I don’t have time – fear based
- I don’t have an idea – fear based
- I’m blocked – fear based
- I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said – fear based
- What if the work isn’t good enough? – fear based
- What if I get rejected, ridiculed? – fear based
- Who will listen to me? – fear based
- What if I can’t get a publisher, agent, audience? – fear based
What is hard is to make time to do those things you fear.
There are all sorts of reasons why our first response to many things is fear. One of the most basic reasons is that that’s what we were taught. Writing is somehow not open to all, though all can write. Yet only those select few somehow get the key to the castle.
Here’s your key to the writer's clubThere is a magic answer. There is a key that is freely available to all though only precious few actually use it.
Focus on the process, not on the product.
That's the key. Work the process and before you know it you’ve taken a chunk out of your project. Perfect the process and soon it's so easy to write you're getting up before the alarm, like me.
My clients have changed their focus from product to process and they're finishing books they’ve been working on for years. Their internal editor has bailed and they are suprising themselves creatively.
Here's how to turn the key:
- Create a space in your life for your writing.
- Do it every day even if just for 30 minutes.
- Break what you need to do into manageable pieces. Don’t get overwhelmed by the enormity of the project.
- Find a way to know how a novel gets put together (craft).
- Make a process. Or borrow one.
So in order to be happy, all you have to do is write every day for thirty minutes or so. I don't know anyone who can't find thirty minutes. The product will get created. And you will be focusing on what’s working in your writing world, not what isn’t working in your writing world.
Here’s the process I use and teach:
- Major character exploration first
- Plot structure – I use Blake Snyder’s 15 beats and if I’m writing romance, I use romance beats to plot one liners for each scene in each beat.
- Write the first draft as fast as you can. Pretend it’s NaNo if it isn’t.
- Take your draft through a revision process. (I’m teaching this later in the month, if you’re curious.)
- Find a critique group for the editing phase – the nitpicky stuff. But don’t let them talk about plot. I wanted to add: unless they're really good, but even then they're going to be writing their book with their ideas, not yours. You don’t want to fall into that critique loop of writing by committee and changing the plot now. Just use them for what works on the scene level (tension, conflict) and fixing grammar.
- Repeat the process again and again.
About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fourteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see www.debmcleod.com.