Is it too late to follow my writing dreams?

Did you read this advice column by Roxane Gay in the New York Times? The one that says this:

The older I get, the more I have to say and the better I am able to express myself. There is no age limit to finding artistic success. Sometimes it happens at 22 and sometimes it happens at 72 and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. No, you are not too old to have a writing career, no matter your age.

I did read it, and then forgot it completely (I haven’t been online much the past couple weeks). And then one of our listeners sent it to me again, and reminded me that I wanted to write about it.

In the conversations Meghan and I have – on the podcast but especially off – we often talk about feeling like we have started late, or that particular nostalgia-for-what-never-was feeling (there must be a German word for that) of reading about a writer who is 22 and accomplished and amazing. That feeling that makes you feel like it’s not worth trying.

Which, of course, logically: what?? First of all, we aren’t old. Second, if it took me 70 years to tell a really good story, that would also be okay. But a lot of celebrity writing culture glorifies the young writers. Every year, it seems, an entire generation of new writers is born, at age 20-whatever, and they are breathlessly hailed as the “new [insert famous writer here, like Nabokov or Roth or whoever].”

(By the way, that is also completely okay. It’s awesome if you figure out what you want to say and how to say it when you’re 20-whatever, and I love being in awe of so many talented people.)

One part I liked of the column was this: “The writing world was passing me by.” Because that’s what it does feel like, right? That there is a writing world, and they don’t even know you want to get in, and if they did, they’d completely laugh in your face.

That’s why I especially liked her advice, which was to measure your success in a way that doesn’t depend on other people, on the people in the writing world (we could call it a writing bubble):

Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel.

Let’s all just chant her last line to ourselves and each other every day this year:

You are not a late bloomer. You are already blooming.

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9 tips for being a writer at Thanksgiving (or any holiday)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the United States, and that means travel, family, friends, houseguests, late nights, and lots of food and drink — all things that can wreck your writing routine. In this week’s episode, Olivia and I talked about ways you can make sure you don’t feel like you’ve been derailed but don’t have to lock yourself away in a hermitage (unless that’s your thing — it’s totally my dream life, so I’m not judging).

So whether or not you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, whether or not you’re closing in on 50,000 words for the month or are stuck at 500, all of these can help you stay connected to your writing when life around you gets out of control.

top tips for being a writer at thanksgiving or holidays

1. Stay engaged with the craft

It’s hard to stick to a firm schedule when you’re traveling or tired. Instead of pushing yourself to write during down time, try reading or rereading your favorite book on writing. We love Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is great for quick shots. In episode 11, Alicia de los Reyes recommends On Writing by Stephen King.

You could also try a podcast or two. We cover our favorites in episodes 3 and 12, and you can check out a handy list on Instagram.

2. Take notes

Keep track of those great ideas! I carry a notebook with me most places, but always at least have an index card or some post-its. You can also record a voice memo or take a quick note on your phone. Even if you don’t have time to do anything with the idea right away, you’ve saved it for later.

3. Use jet lag

Waking super early (or up really late) because of jet lag? Take advantage of the time when others are sleeping and use that time for yourself and your writing.

4. Decide ahead of time

Be honest with yourself about how what you’ve been able to do in the past, and make a choice about how much — if any — you’ll write during the holiday period. Not writing feels a lot better if you are doing it on purpose. Making a plan ahead of time can also help you get back to your routine after Thanksgiving.

5. Whatever you do is enough

Even if you don’t decide ahead of time, that’s okay. It’s totally okay to do nothing, and it’s okay to change your plans. You are okay.

6. Help out your future self

Write a note to yourself about where you are so it’s easier to re-engage after a break (planned or unplanned). This is a helpful practice to use every day, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed by what you haven’t done yet.

7. Be gentle with yourself

Holiday gatherings are hard, even with the happiest of families and friends. Don’t add more stress by beating yourself up over what you are and aren’t writing. You don’t need to catch up if you miss a day or three — just start where you are and do the best you can. You’re doing great!

8. Honor your feelings

If you’re finding yourself getting anxious or desperate to get some words on paper, sneak away for 15-20 minutes. Take a walk, or go find a quiet room. No one will notice, and even a short break can be all you need.

9. Only share what you want (and don’t apologize)

We’ve all been there — the well-meaning (or not) question about your writing. “Are you published yet?” or even just, “How’s your writing going?” Think about what you want to say and direct the conversation there. Chances are, the person is just trying to connect with you, and not looking for all the details of your agent hunt. Even if they are, it’s okay not to answer and change the subject. You don’t have to apologize.

 

That’s it! What’s your best advice for balancing writing and holidays? Let us know, and if you try any of our tips, we’d love to hear how it goes!

-Meghan

 

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Episode 11 is up, and we talk with Alicia de los Reyes about DIY writing retreats, rejection and what it means to be a writer

If writing really is a practice, then finishing something should be important. You should be a writer, not a starter of books. Alicia de los Reyes.

Today, we have the pleasure of talking to writer Alicia de los Reyes about making time to write no matter what your circumstances are, and how she was able to take the rejection of her first novel and use it to grow as a writer.

writer alicia de los reyesAlicia is a writer based in Seattle, WA, where she lives with her husband, son, and cat. She has her MFA from University of New Hampshire. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Archipelago, The Billfold, and others, and her fiction has been published in Best New Writing 2015. She is represented by DGLM and at work on a novel.

You can find out more about Alicia at aliciadelosreyes.com, and as @likesoatmeal on Instagram and Twitter. Listen to her podcast Scratch Paper on iTunes or on Stitcher, or at her website.

 

Full show notes are here. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts, and rate and review us — you’ll never miss an episode, and you’ll help others find the show!

If writing really is a practice, then finishing something should be important. You should be a writer, not a starter of books. Alicia de los Reyes.

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The NaNoWriMo launch post

Happy Halloween everyone!

In yesterday’s episode, we had a little mini-debate on NaNoWriMo, which, for anyone who doesn’t know, is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a first draft of a novel, or 50,000 words.

All three of us on the show – Meghan, Olivia and Ayanna – have attempted NaNo before, and none of us have done the full 50k words – or “won,” in the terms of the organizers (we’ll come back to that in a second). We had a bit of a debate on the show, about the ambivalence that all of us feel about this.

On one hand, Olivia found the collectivity and community really inspirational last year – it was the first time that she had really started writing almost every day. It was a great motivator to wake up early, to have a routine, but also to have a group of people doing it at the same time. In other words, you could say that NaNo last year did what this podcast is doing this year – linking her up with other writers and their routines. So even though she didn’t write 50k words, she wrote a lot, and she liked it.

Meghan and Ayanna struggle with their perfectionism because of some of the language around winning and the quantitative goal.

Here’s the thing, right? You don’t have to do the whole 50k words. I know, this is a sort of rebel approach, but we decided that, for both Olivia and Meghan, we need to set our own goals that are focused on drawing on the community – but also being realistic about the demands of our schedules.

Olivia’s goal? To write 20k words. (Last month, she did 12k of a 15k goal, so this is a stretch but not impossible.)

And Meghan’s? To participate in the community, cheer people on, and keep up the schedule and routine that is working for her – without putting additional pressure on herself.

We’re using the metaphor of a marathon race: you can still show up, but maybe you need to run the 5k or 10k or half marathon, if you’re not ready for the full marathon. And sometimes (like I did this past weekend), you are just cheering for the runners – and that’s really important, too.

So, where can you find us? 

We have started a forum in the writing club section, specifically about the Marginally thing – writing when you have a day job. Please join us there!

You can also add us as buddies: Here’s Olivia’s NaNo profile, and Meghan’s profile.

Finally, we will also be following, lurking and commenting in various fora, but especially:

  • Olivia’s genre, thriller/suspense has a forum
  • Our age group has a forum (it’s suitably wide so not giving anything away here)
  • We love the NaNo Rebels page – all different types of goals, genres and everything else (we’ll be here a lot)
  • Meghan will be doing a 6:30 am EST sprint most mornings — check this thread for the daily link

We’ll post more as we go on.

We’d love to hear from you: are you doing NaNo? Why, or why not? What’s your goal?

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Episode 7 gets real

We posted Episode 7, and in it we open up about the ugly side of writing when you have a day job – when you can’t really manage to fit everything in, when you feel frustrated, or when you’re just really freaking tired. We know everyone feels this sometimes, so we just went with this feeling, picked it apart, and then talked about some of the things that can get us to writing.

Some of it comes down to this –

– but there’s some other stuff in the episode as well.

As always, we would love to hear how you are doing – so contact us here, on Instagram, or by email. Send us a voice memo, and we will include it on the show!

Full show notes are here.

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Matters poetical

The title of this post is totally stolen from a Times Literary Supplement podcast I listened to today, which had this lovely interview with the British theatre director Peter Brook CBE. You can listen here, or on iTunes or wherever else you get podcasts. The interview starts around 27:10, and it’s lovely.

Next week on the podcast, we’ll be talking about inspiration and motivation – what’s the difference, and what makes a difference for us. This is totally inspiration for me. I’ll give you bits of it if you are interested, but obviously listen to the whole thing if you want more.

First of all, he talks about the need to try but let go – we will have a longer discussion about this idea on a future podcast, because it’s something I’ve learned about through yoga. Here’s a quote from Peter:

There is something very subtle that can come through if we, just for a moment, try the best we can, and then quietly let be.

He then goes on to talk about what he calls “the formless hunch,” which I’ll let him explain:

I had to have gone through all the impossibilities. I had this very early on in my career, where people said to me, if you’re a young director, you must prepare. So I took it seriously. … I had a great ball doing this. But then I came into rehearsal and just saw simply that none of it was any good. And I think all one needs is to be able to say to oneself, ‘It’s no good.’ And at that moment, things fall away, and that’s what the formless hunch is about.

I really loved how he talks about the separation of the form and the meaning. He says that, for the podcast, they have a microphone, a table, whatever, but continues:

but they are not the cause of whatever good may come out of anything we say to one another. That will happen. And that’s why I say the formless hunch. People get obsessed with the form, and the form is just a starting point. It’s something we need… We need words, but words are just a form. Gradually you can find that the word is either a dead piece of useless bone, or it is vibrating because within the word there is more.

And then, the magic (bonus tip: I basically love anything about magic used in this way):

Yes you have to prepare and now, when you come to it, you have to trust the true magic of intuition, and the intuition only comes if you’ve prepared the ground and if you then have the simple good will to stop taking yourself so seriously.

 

*

We’re collecting inspiration for our podcast next week. What type of thing do you learn to hear about?

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Writing on vacation

It’s Labor Day weekend in America, right?

(I’m originally from the US, but I forget these things – the holiday only really dawned on me late this week, when I was wondering why there were so many Americans in Athens, and then I was listening to a podcast, and they mentioned it, and I thought, “Ah-ha!” But actually it may not be the reason there are so many Americans in Athens at all.)

Anyway, it’s Labor Day weekend, so everyone’s schedule is probably all up in the air. I’m writing to you from the end of my vacation in Greece – we’ve been here a bit over a week, and it’s been sort of a whirlwind. Sure, it’s a lazy whirlwind mainly composed of lots of hours of silent reading on the beach, or slow shuffling walks along dusty paths to the next pebbly beach, or six-hour marathons of The Good Wife, but it’s a whirlwind nonetheless.

 

 

On one hand, I’m happy because I have done some good writing here, and some thinking about my draft. And, on the other hand, I always think I have more time than I do, or that I will be more disciplined than I am.

Especially on holiday. I tell myself: Look at all that time! Whole entire days, and all I’m doing is going to the beach, which is totally a great place to work. I even take my laptop and notebook to the beach (and actually did some work):

And yet, the real truth is that writing on holiday is like writing all the rest of the time: if I don’t get up and work, I am not that likely to make up the time later. Turns out just sitting in your seat and doing the work is… well, really the only way it gets done.

All of that is not to say that I feel guilty. I don’t think I should or do – it’s pointless, it wastes energy, and it doesn’t change what was or wasn’t done. It’s just a sort of note, a placeholder for my future self. Maybe I can come back here and read it before my next holiday, and then make some realistic writing goals or timelines.

What about you? How are your holidays going? Do you get work done, or do you use it as a way to really switch off?

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