Episode 24 is here to pep you up

We’ve been doing pep talks off and on here on our blog, and find they’re helpful not just for our followers, but for ourselves as well! So this week, we’ve introduced a new short segment for our podcast — the pep talk! Go here to listen to the our first two talks and the stories behind them in the full episode, and look for just the excerpted talks themselves as single releases. Make sure you’re subscribed in your podcast player so you don’t miss a single pep talk.

Have a pep talk you’d like to share, or one you’d like to here? Let us know in the comments!

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What not to do when you’re staring at the screen early in the morning

Good morning! A post from the trenches of margin-writing today. I wanted to write you a post called something like “How to get started writing in the morning if you can’t remember what your book is about.” But then I realized that I am in that situation right now and I have no idea how to start again, and only 28 minutes to write, so I would be a hypocrite if I wrote you a blog about that. And I don’t have time to both remember what my book is about and write a blog post.

So this post is what not to do when you’re staring at the screen early in the morning and can’t remember what your book is about.

First of course, don’t start writing a blog post. Is this your book? No, it is not.

Oh well.

Second, do not let your cats sit on your notebook and cuddle up with each other. They will look too cute and then you will not be able to move them. And if you do, then they will just start eating everything on your desk, and that is also annoying.

Third: definitely do not look at Facebook. You will not find your book on there. One time (literally just one time) I had to go on Facebook to check out someone who was a fashion inspiration for a character. The rest of the time, I was just procrastinating.

(Point 3 also goes for Pinterest, although I do use it more for research than Facebook. You can see proof of this on our Marginally Pinterest page, which is not my personal Pinterest. I had a serious Pinterest addiction and have had to separate my writing account from the one about beautiful bedrooms and vegan baking.)

Another tip: don’t organize anything. Organization is a great procrastination technique, but you don’t need procrastination when you have max 1 hour to write in the morning. Organization is a great thing to do in the evening.

Fifth, don’t turn on your phone. I keep my phone on airplane mode until after I’ve written (or at least theoretically). Days when I don’t do that, my brain gets fried and it’s super hard to sit down to write.

Sixth, don’t forget to light your candles and turn on the music that makes you know you’re ready to write! That’s your ritual! Why did you forget??

In short, writing isn’t working for me this morning, so I’m going to go meditate. I’m really thinking about shifting my writing routine to the evening.

PS – I’m going to put this smug quote from an Earlier Me here for a bit of irony.

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Our Episode 23 chat with filmmaker Ashley Maynor

Episode 23 is live, and we are super excited to bring you our wide-ranging conversation with Ashley Maynor, who is a university librarian by day and an award-winning filmmaker by night. Ashley is a long and dear friend of Olivia’s. This conversation is anything but boring – we touch on divorce and our inner octagenarian, as well as farm animals.

Using her mad librarian skills, after our chat she put up this great Resources for Creatives page, with things to get you unstuck, a crash course on starting a podcast and a guide to microbudget film production. We thought you’d like to check it out!

Full show notes are here.

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Loving the day job

This week, I love my day job. Why? It’s SUCH a great distraction. I finished my rewrites on Saturday, working through the plot issues I talked about in episode 22, and sent it off to a couple of readers. I found the query letter I worked up for a workshop and as a plotting exercise last year, and it turns out it’s pretty good. Then — against all advice — I opened up my manuscript on my e-reader to give it a full read through to get a big-picture look.

There’s a reason the advice all says to let your work rest for a week or more. In the space of five hours — the time between sending off my MS to some readers and reading the first page of my book — I went from “I FINISHED MY BOOK!” to “EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE FOREVER.”

So thank goodness for my day job. Monday morning, I pulled up the book I had queued to index, and one of my business partners passed another one to me, so I’m busy. With things that have nothing to do with my book, and things that keep me too busy to touch my book. Also, 3 of the 4 of us in my family are sick (I must be psychic), so I’m definitely cutting out any non-essential work. And right now, my book is non-essential.

I’m still writing, though, following the advice from next week’s guest to touch the work every day (y’all are going to LOVE her and that episode). It’s super-hard for me to get back into a routine when I’ve let it slide, so I want to keep up my early mornings. I’ve started working through Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering the Craft, with an eye to a short story I started last spring. Today, I haven’t done anything but this post, but it counts.

And now, back to my day job.

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Episode 22 is here for you

Hey hey! Episode 22 is up, with our responses to the January writing prompt and the reveal of the February one. To listen and for full show notes, including the prompt, go here.

To join in on the writing prompts, and be entered into a drawing for some surprise writing mail, send us your response! You can add it to the post on our blog, send an email, voice memo, semaphore, whatever.

We’d love to read your response on the podcast, but are happy to make it anonymous or just send you private feedback. We’ll share our responses and comments on the blog later this week. The giveaway is open to all countries.

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Open thread: January writing prompt (PS and a giveaway!)

Hey hey! On the podcast next week, we’ll be sharing our responses to the January writing prompt, and would love to have some of yours to read also. I’ve created this post for you to share your responses and participate in the critique — it’s always so interesting to see the totally different ways the same prompt is interpreted.

You’re welcome to join in here anonymously, or you can send us an email if you are feeling extra shy. It gets easier the more you share, though, so give it a try! We’ll all be kind. Pinky swear.

The giveaway!

This month, we’re trying something new — writer mail! We’ll do a random drawing from the submissions and choose someone to get a small surprise, so send ’em in. One entry per submission, so you can enter multiple times. Post here or email us.

As a reminder of how this works: We do what most people do with writing prompts – i.e. use them for 10-15 minutes to get warmed up. That means we don’t edit them (we write by hand, so when we type it up there may be some basic changes, but we resist the urge to do real work on it).

Otherwise, the rules are simple — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. In other words, don’t be mean.

While it’s ok to offer critique without sharing your response in turn, we’d like you to really think hard before doing that, and let it shape your comments.

And now for the prompt!

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Writing while sick (and how to jump back in when you’re better)

Flu season is raging right now, and while (so far) my family has been safe — high five for vaccines, hand washing, and getting enough sleep — I know it could hit anyway. Even without the flu, we’ve had a pretty rough winter, including having to reschedule a flight from the airport parking lot because of my 4-year-old’s sudden stomach bug. A stomach bug I got 5 days later, on Christmas Day. I’d just gotten over a brutal cold, and then a week after Christmas, another one that lasted into mid-January.

It’s funny, because at the beginning of the season, I was looking forward to curling up inside and hitting my revisions hard. I’d hoped to be able to start researching my next book — I’m trying to decide between two different historicals, and one involves reading lots of Brontë. Perfect for miserable winter days, even if (full disclosure) I don’t usually experience much cold where I live.

This winter though? There’s been lots of cold. Snow, even. It’s 35 degrees F outside right now, though the full sun makes me feel guilty for being indoors. Exactly what I imagined back in late November. Except … I forgot to imagine being sick for a month straight.

Ok, that’s all super boring, but I’m pretty sure everyone out there can commiserate with their own stories. We all get sick — some of us because it’s winter and we have small kids or travel frequently, and some people because of chronic illness. I can’t speak to the last one, but I recommend Esme Wang and Kim of Her Pickings for some insight into living a creative life with chronic illness, and would love to check out any others you want to share.

So, what I want to talk about is how to deal with being sick when it isn’t a part of your normal routine.

Make it a routine

I’m not saying to get sick all the time. I’m saying to think about how you could think about what your routine could look like on a sick day. What are your low-energy tasks? What absolutely must get done, no matter what? What can someone else do instead?

These questions are much easier to answer before you get sick, but they don’t have to be decided ahead of time.

We love this kind of emergency plan (we talk about applying it to holidays or vacations here); the great thing about it is how versatile it is to any disruptive situation.

Do what you can

Sometimes you can curl up in bed with a notebook and journal. Even if it’s just whining about feeling bad — this works best when you feel terrible, but aren’t sleeping 23 hours a day. If you’re lucky enough to be able to take a sick day from your day job, consider using any time you feel like doing something to work on your writing instead. Not that a sick day is the equivalent of a writing retreat, but if you’re home sick from work, it can be good to not work if you aren’t expected to.

Don’t do what you can’t

Honestly, the week I was sick, I didn’t do much. I didn’t wake up early to write, and I didn’t even try to come up to my quota. I wasn’t trying to meet a real deadline — that is, one that isn’t self-imposed — and I did have other things I needed to take care of that week, like pick children up from school and some of my day job. Freelancers know the pain of no sick days, as do those whose employers have terrible expectations of sick employees.

As we’ve said before, be gentle on yourself. Being sick is no joke. Pushing yourself too hard will only prolong your misery, and chances are you’ll have to burn everything you wrote anyway, because it will make no sense.

Have a re-entry plan

After being sick for weeks on end, the day I felt better, I felt SO MUCH BETTER. I wanted to do ALL THE THINGS, but I also had a fresh reminder of the dangers of jumping in too quickly, and didn’t want to end up sick again. So I looked at my generic re-entry plan. It’s something I use for busy work weeks, but can be adapted for any disruptive situation, and is a tip I picked up from my book coach.

You can work this out when you make your emergency plan, long before getting sick (like right after you read this!), but you can also count on spending a couple of hours after getting well figuring out what to do. It’s always disorienting switching tempos, so give yourself some transition time and an easy checklist to get back into the groove. That way, you don’t sit at your desk wondering what you should be doing, and bouncing from one task to another.

Some ideas:

Read through the last 10 pages or so of your manuscript to get it back into your head

Journal. A few pages of rambling about how distracted you are, or how sick you were, or all the things you wanted to do but didn’t can help you get all the junk out of your brain so you can focus on what matters.

Move. Take a walk, do some gentle yoga. Get outside if you can.

Change your surroundings. Take your work somewhere else (again, if you can). Even changing the desktop background on your computer or using a different notebook can help you really feel the fresh start.

Don’t worry about it

If you spend the whole first day back doing nothing, that’s ok. Maybe that’s what you needed anyway. Pick up your re-entry plan as soon as you feel restless and touchy — that’s always a sign I need to get focused. Choose one thing that you know will make you feel like you accomplished something, and do it. Then, at the end of the day, consider a have-done list instead of worrying about what’s crossed off on your to-do list. Start with a blank piece of paper and write down everything you did, whether or not it was on your to-do list. Don’t compare it to that other list — in fact, you can throw that list away.

Congratulate yourself for being alive and able to breathe through your nose and stay awake past 7pm!

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Episode 20 is live, and it features some awesome listener feedback

Episode 20 is live, and in it we debut our new check-in segment, “Everything is Terrible/What’s Working Now.” This week, everything is terrible for Olivia, and Meghan shares what’s helping her with revisions.

We also revisit jealousy, and share some of the conversations we’ve had with y’all over the last week. The show ends with a pep talk: we got a wonderful voicemail from a listener, and we share it from you all. We love hearing from listeners, so keep the comments and voice memos coming!

Full show notes are here.

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This, too, is my life

gal gadot as wonder womanFriday night, my family settled in to watch Wonder Woman for the zillionth time. I love that my boys love Wonder Woman and argue over who gets to be her when they play Justice League. I have wistful memories of my childhood best friend (and inspiration for my current novel) and the Wonder Woman mittens of hers I coveted fiercely. I love the anti-war message of the latest incarnation.

But I also find myself wrestling with other feelings. As I sat watching Gal Gadot, in awe of her strong legs and body, frustration with my own slide toward 40 and 5-years-post-partum body set in. Again (like I said, this is the zillionth time we’ve watched it). I’ll never be Gal Gadot.

In this week’s episode, Olivia and I talked about jealousy and how to deal with it. It’s such a common part of life, and it sucks. Not only is it unpleasant, it can spoil the good things, too.

I’ll never be Gal Gadot. But she’ll never be me, either.

We recorded this particular discussion on Thursday, so as I lay in bed that night after the movie, I decided to just sit with it. And I realized, yes, I’ll never be Gal Gadot. But she’ll never be me, either. So take that, Wonder Woman.

***

madeleine l'engle's summer of the great-grandmother (crosswicks book two) and yellow index cardsLast week, I also finished reading Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle. Listeners know how much I love the woman I call St. Madeleine, in all her complexity — much has been written on her revisionist approach to truth and memory, and it was sad to read her version of her children and know how different it is from their version of her (Gabrielle Zevin wrote in The New Yorker of her children “who love her deeply, but with a kind of desperate frustration spliced with resentment.”). She rewrote herself.

Anyway, I finished the book, and made some notes, feeling a little disappointed. Summer of the Great-Grandmother is about the summer of her mother’s death and decline, and is full of family history and storytelling, which while pleasant, wasn’t illuminating or inspiring to me right then. I wanted her to tell me a different story, to give me her life, but differently.

Madeleine looked back at me and said, not just “It was hard,” but also, “This, too, was my life.”

I tell a story often of a podcast I once heard. The host shared what was to her a devastating interaction with a long-time hero: She was in the process of trying to write while also raising her small children. At a book signing for one of L’Engle’s books, she asked L’Engle, “How did you do it? How did you write and take care of your family?” L’Engle looked at her for a moment then said only, “It was hard,” then went back to signing books.

This is a favorite story of mine because my reaction is one of joy and intense relief. If it was hard for Madeleine effing L’Engle, how in the world do I expect it to be easy for me?

As I was copying down passages from Summer on yellow index cards, I realized I had been reading the book for advice and motivation as a writer, and Madeleine looked back at me and said, not just “It was hard,” but also, “This, too, was my life.”

***

And it hit me — these things too are and will be my life, and that’s good. I don’t know what Gal Gadot wants from her life, but as I look around at mine, I would not trade it for anyone else’s. You can’t give up the bad without giving up the good, because they’re entwined. Nothing in our lives is wholly good or bad — kids are going to bring sleepless nights and fragmented workdays, but they’re also going to bring knock-knock jokes and spontaneous hugs and so much wonder. That delicious cake? Probably not helping me look like Wonder Woman, but SO DELICIOUS. A period of intense loneliness many years ago has wound its way through my current work, and allowed me to write about someone who isn’t me doing things I’ve never done, but feeling things I have felt.

This, too, is my life — not L’Engle’s, not Gal Gadot’s — and I’m the only one who makes it what it is, and it makes me.

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