How Writing Is Like Running

Writing is like running (or just about any activity); but since I do 2-miles a day running, and enter an occasional 5k (a 3.1-mile walk/run), I’m using the running analogy.

For writing (and running), first you make the decision to do it. The best goals are written, so hopefully you put it into your calendar as a date for yourself.

Then you decide on the length and outline (or determine the route).

Next, you start writing (or running). One word at a time (one foot in front of the other).

When you hit a wall, you push through – write more words, keep putting one foot in front of the other – hopefully you hit a flow and get into a groove where the words flow (the steps just happen).

Maybe you make revisions (adjustments) along the way to smooth out the article/story (or your pace).

Then you reach the end of the article/story (or destination/finish line) and submit the written piece (or celebrate the achievement).

Lastly, you polish the piece (cool down from the run).

For running, it’s that middle portion of my route where I hit my stride, and in writing, it’s the middle of the piece where the words flow easiest.

Determination (to reach a goal) gets you started, passion keeps you going.

Lisa crossing finish line of a 5K foot race

Finish line of a ‘Stache Dash

And just like with accomplishing any goal, please celebrate the accomplishment — whether it’s hitting ‘send’ to a publisher/editor, seeing your name in print, or receiving a check — celebrate each milestone for your writing — and for finishing the run (I love crossing finish lines!)

What do you equate writing with?

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies and individuals tell their stories. You can connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter. Subscribe to her Write Your Way newsletter for bite-sized business, networking, and writing tips – and fun stuff.

Reflect and Recharge

Not all writers are introverts who cherish alone time. Many are, but even writers who are extroverts and get all their energy from being with other people, need time alone.

We need time to fill the well. The well is replenished with reflection, relaxation, observation, meditation, and movement. 

I should say, my well is filled with all these things. Your well may be filled by additional practices, but even the most extroverted among us has to take some time for reflection and observation. We can’t spend all our time creating content and we can’t spend all our time taking in more—more conversation, more story, more learning.

We need to pause and just be every once in a while. Regularly, if we are going to keep filling that well. 

Silence is one of the best tools I’ve found for filling my well. I regularly take Wordless Walks with other people. We may chat before and after the walk, but during the walk, we are silent. We are walking, we are breathing, we are noticing the crunch of the ice underneath our cleats and the flash of the cardinal’s wing as it takes off from a nearby branch. 

And we are filled up when we are finished. Full of images, ideas, questions, and insights. 

Honestly, I think one of the reasons we all get our best ideas in the shower is it’s one of the few places we are alone without the radio/podcast/TV/other people feeding us words.

  • You don’t have to go on a Wordless Walk to embrace quiet or to allow yourself time to reflect. You could go for a walk outside by yourself without wearing earbuds or listening to anything on your phone. 
  • You could go to a place that’s unusual for you, even a store you don’t usually shop at, and just browse around without an agenda or a shopping list. This is the classic Artist’s Date Julia Cameron recommends in her book, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. 
  • Or, you could decide not to listen to your car radio while driving somewhere and see where your thoughts lead you. Keep a notebook handy for your insights (once you are in park, of course!)
  • You could sip a cup of tea or coffee in a public place and notice all the hubbub around you while you remain in an oasis of calm.

Silence, time to reflect, artist’s dates—these are all writer’s tools, just as journaling is a tool. In order to know what we are really thinking, what we are really feeling, we need to take some time to allow our thoughts and feelings to surface. Time is a valuable and ever-more-rare commodity in this busy world, but it is essential for our well-being, whether we are writers or not. 

Without that time, that silence, that reflection, our words will eventually dry up. Don’t let that happen. 

Fill the well. 

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Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Make Time for Writing

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

As writers, we all struggle with finding enough time to write. There are a number of ways we can “make time” to write. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Redefine Writing Time

I used to think I needed a whole day to get some good writing done, but over the years, my time window has shrunk. For example, I started the first draft of this post while waiting for my son in the car pool line at school. I had 10 minutes and I used them!

  1. Make Routines for Everything You Can

I’m the cook in my family and, last fall, I started creating weekly meal plans, usually on Sunday. It takes me half an hour to plan my meals for the week, and it turns out to be a huge time-saver. The hard part about cooking, for me, is figuring out what we’re going to eat. Once that’s done, its just math—and one trip to the grocery store.

Today, for example, is Taco Tuesday, so I have to start cooking at 4:30 PM. If my son and I get home from school at 3:30 PM and he happens to get involved in playing with his LEGO minifigs, that’s an hour of writing time I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d been staring in the fridge at 3:30, wondering what the heck we’re going to have for dinner. Not to mention the last-minute trip to the grocery store once I decided and realized we didn’t have any of the ingredients I needed.

  1. Keep Internet/Facebook/Email/Apps/Games/Etc OFF

If you plan to write on your computer tomorrow, make sure you shut it down completely tonight. Then, when you sit down to write tomorrow morning, only open Windows, or Scrivener, or whatever program you write with. Do not check email or Facebook first.

If you work from your computer and feel this isn’t possible, try this: schedule a block of writing time—after lunch, at 5 PM when you are done with your day job, or after you go to the gym. Before lunch, at 5 PM, or before you go to the gym, shut your computer down. When you come back to write, only open your writing program. Once your writing time is up, you can open up your email or Facebook or Slack, whatever you need to do.

  1. Move Your Body

Exercise is the magic pill. It makes everything better. Our bodies are meant to move and if we walk, even for 10 minutes, we will have more energy than if we sit in a chair all day.

So stretch every hour, take a walk at lunchtime, and/or go to the gym before or after work. Even if you hate exercise, figure out something you can do to get more movement into your day. You will have increased focus and energy as a result, allowing you to be more productive as a writer.

How do you make time in your life to write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Start with One Step Forward…How Else Will You Get There?

sign post with arrows pointing in various directionsWhether you call them resolutions or goals or plans or dreams, in order to succeed at achieving them you need to move toward them. They won’t come to you on their own.

While I was out on a brisk icy morning to complete my 1-mile-per-day-outside-for-the-month-of-January challenge, I thought of this one-step-forward concept (I know it is not original, it struck me in the moment though). I took deliberate steps that morning because it was slippery, and with each step, I was one step closer to the 1-mile goal.

It was slow progress, but it was forward progress.

And as with any goal, resolution, etc. you set for yourself, as long as you’re moving toward it — full speed, half-speed, slowly — you have a much better chance of reaching that finish line than if you sit still and don’t do anything.

Am I right?

This isn’t anything new. We all know we have to take steps to reach a goal, yet, time and time again, it’s easy to slip back into the not doing it or thinking we’ll do it later. However, the truth is that tomorrow’s success is based on today’s actions.

Keep saying you want to write a book but haven’t started it yet? Write 1 word today (sounds silly, but it’s 1 word more than you had yesterday), then write another tomorrow… before you know it you’ll be writing a paragraph a day, then a page a day, then a chapter a day — or simply a sentence a day. Whatever it turns out to be, you’re writing that book! Finally!

Want to walk a mile a day? Start with a walk to the end of the hallway and back, to the end of the driveway and back, to the start of the neighbor’s driveway and back. Figure out ways to get some steps in and the do at least the same amount of steps or more the next day and the next, and the next and eventually you will hit a mile-a-day (or whatever your goal is).

Want to build your business network? Connect to someone new on social media. Give a sincere reply or comment to a post you liked reading. Make a phone call to a past client. Reply to a request for assistance. Join an online group. RSVP ‘yes’ to an upcoming event. Do one thing today that can start you forward on building your business network. Then do another tomorrow.

Doing one thing may not sound like enough – but if you’ve had the same dream, goal, resolution, etc. for a while now, doing nothing hasn’t worked, has it?

Maybe it seemed too overwhelming.

So, stop and take a serious look at the goal/resolution/etc. Is it something you truly want to accomplish?

If no. Toss it. Get it off your list once and for all. If yes, if you still want to see that end result, then I challenge you to take one step toward it today.

And then another step tomorrow.

And so on.

Promise yourself you’ll to do at least one thing and I bet you’ll end up doing more.

By taking at least one step forward, you’ll feel good about making positive strides. I know, because it’s what I’m doing now in a couple of areas.

What will be your one thing to get you moving forward?

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies and individuals tell their stories. You can connect with her on LinkedInFacebook, and Twitter.

September: The End is Where We Start From

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.   ~T.S. Eliot

The end is where we start from

September’s first task was to clean my desk.

September: Summer ends, and we begin the push to the end of the year. Summer ends and work resumes in earnest.

September: the first thing I did was clean my desk.

The very act of sorting books, papers and projects has helped me choose what to place front and center of my attention and which to shelve for the time being. This simple act has given me focus, structure and deadlines.

September is full of promise and hope. So are a clean desk and the deadline of a year’s end just over the horizon. I’m feeling hopeful and focused to be back at my desk after a summer of grief.

This September: I’m adjusting to the memory of loving parents who are not longer alive. I’m peering through the murky fog of mourning and see hope and promise in the slow death of the garden as it gives up its bounty. I hear the crickets singing summer’s end and know the silence of winter is coming. I welcome the gradually shortening days as the earth tilts away from the extended daylight that makes summer so luxurious. And I welcome the shift that allows me to sit at my desk with focus and energy to blog, to teach, and to advance a novel that’s starting to sing in me.

September is like taking a breath: I inhale cool air of intention and exhale the warm air of summer’s ease.

September is a time to focus and write.

What does September mean to you?

www.deborahleeluskin.comDeborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont and blogs at Living in Place. She is a freelance educator, a radio commentator, and an avid hiker. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com.

 

 

Reposting: Six Writing Lessons From The Garden

veg garden I love to garden. It’s a meditative activity – something I can do while my mind freewheels. Last Sunday, I found myself thinking how preparing a small vegetable patch is like writing a book.
Lesson 1: Writing is Solitary.Scarecrow

For the first time in thirty years, I’m planting the garden solo. My husband helped me install the fence posts (just as he built the studio where I write), but he prefers to nurture the orchard. I’m on my own, just as I write by myself during the week while he’s off tending to his patients’ health.

Lesson 2: Selectivity is Good.

There was a time when we grew and preserved all our food – but no longer. We’re now supplied with locally grown produce from a neighbor’s organic farm, so I’m only planting high-value items that are harder to find in local markets – shallots and leeks, fennel, veg garden2escarole and Brussels sprouts – as well as items we consume in quantity – cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, hot peppers and a wide assortment of culinary herbs.

I’m leaving the prosaic vegetables – the zucchini and green beans, the carrots and potatoes – to the production professionals. In a similar way, I’ve retired from the teaching, managerial and editorial jobs that others can do as well as or even better than I can. No one else can tell the stories I imagine, so I’m concentrating on them.

Lesson 3: Limits are Helpful.

GardenPrep050513I started by limiting the scope of my garden. I’ve fenced off an eight- by sixteen-foot rectangle to keep the free-range chickens out, and to keep my intentions focused – and manageable. Our previous gardens were huge, time-sucking affairs, and sometimes we raised an equal quantity of weeds as tomatoes. Similarly, over the past year, I’ve drafted thousands of words about my character’s life. But recently, I’ve come to realize that the story I’m telling takes place over the course of nineteen months. So that’s what I’ll develop; everything else must come out, just like the weeds.

Lesson 4: Writing Takes Time.

At the outset, a hundred and twenty-eight square feet looks just as big as a 100,000-word novel, and turning it over with a hand fork appears as daunting as filling a ream of paper by pen. My husband offered to do this heavy task for me; he sundialwould have had the garden-plot ready in less than an hour. I thanked him and said I would do it myself. It took me three hours, during which time I meditated on how preparing the garden is like writing a novel. I stopped only for water and to take pictures for this post, which I was composing as I dug.

Lesson 5: Small Tasks Yield Success.

gardenprep10A week earlier, I’d covered my plot with a tarp to warm the earth and kill weeds. The weeds continued to flourish, however, and the prospect of turning the soil by hand and pulling the weeds out by the root was too much. So I put the tarp back in place and

Working a small section at a time.

Working a small section at a time.

uncovered only a quarter of the space. After I turned those thirty-two square feet, I peeled the tarp back again, turning and weeding the next section. Now, the job was half done. I folded the tarp back again and again, always giving myself a small, measurable task that I could reasonably accomplish. Writing a book is just the same: I break each chapter into sections, and each section into paragraphs, each paragraph into sentences, each sentence into words. Each time I stuck the fork into the soil, it was a reminder that books are written one word at a time.

Lesson 6: The End is the Beginning

By the time I had raked the soil into beds and outlined the footpath with string, my neck was sunburned, my back was sore, and I was ready for a bath. I was done – for the day. I now had a well-defined garden plot with clearly outlined beds as weed-free as a clean piece of paper. Even though I was done-in, I’m anything but done. In fact, I’m just ready to start.

GardenPrep8Ellen, the novel I’m crafting, is further along than my garden. But the garden is a good reminder about how to maintain forward progress on this first draft. My afternoon preparing my garden yielded these six truths: 1) Even though I work alone, I’m deeply engaged with my characters; 2) every time I cut out a scene or a character or an unnecessary word, I gain a clearer sense of what aspect of the story to nurture; 3) knowing the limit of the narrative has helped me focus on the story I have to tell; 4) drafting the novel is taking a long time – and I make progress daily; 5) I experience the elation of success when I set myself small, measurable tasks; and 6) every time I finish a section, a chapter, an entire draft, I’m ready to begin another section, another chapter, another draft.  And even when that’s done – even when the writing and revision are finished – there’s another whole set of steps to see a book to completion, but those are chores of another season.

This growing season has just started. I tell myself, if I write word by word, weed by weed, my effort will blossom, and in time, I’ll see my book in my readers’ hands.

Meanwhile, I have a lovely garden bed ready for seeds.

I garden and write about my rural, rooted life in Vermont at Living in Place.

This essay originally posted in May 5, 2013. I’ve scheduled more reruns while I’m on summer vacation. Look for replies to your comments in mid-July.

For the Writer Who Hasn’t Been Writing

 

In her smart and inspiring book, Lab Girl, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren writes, “A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed.” One of many gentle insights on the dogged perseverance of both budding scientists and plant life, this passage invites personal musings on dormancy, both literal and figurative.

Dormancy is a regular part of nature. At this time of year, we think of the world as “coming back to life,” but the innumerable seedlings and buds that finally emerge in spring have, in fact, been very much alive during the long, enchanted sleep of winter. They were never dead; they were just biding their time until the moment was right.

Even houseplants, which live in artificial conditions and are sometimes subject to neglect, have the ability to seemingly resurrect themselves. I have a small cyclamen plant that I saved from a holiday arrangement a few years ago. I did a passing fair job of caring for it until this winter when a severe cold trapped me on the couch for a week. By the time I remembered to water the poor thing, there was nothing left of the cyclamen except two dried leaves and one straggling bud that never had the chance to bloom.

Despite the sorry state of the little plant, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Not expecting any miracles, I gave it some water and a sunny spot on the windowsill. For months, nothing happened. It looked as if I was caring for a pot of dirt. And then one day there were signs of life.

Like the undulating arms of a tiny terrestrial octopus, several delicate, fuzz-covered shoots arched gracefully out from a tangle of dead stems and partially exposed roots. A few days later, the tips of several shoots had unfurled into beautiful variegated leaves that spread wide and began, imperceptibly, tracking the movements of the sun like an array of miniature radar dishes tuned into the songs of the stars.

There are parts of ourselves—dreams, hopes, beliefs—that are like seeds waiting to germinate or like neglected houseplants that seem half dead, but have really just drawn their life force back into themselves for safe keeping.

Maybe you grew up wishing you could be an explorer or an artist, but life led you down a different path, and now you can hardly recognize yourself as the child who dreamed of sailing the seven seas, writing poetry, or capturing visions in paint. That piece of yourself is not dead and gone; it is just dormant, waiting for the right time to stretch into the light.

You can often coax new growth simply by providing a little sustenance. Just like my cyclamen needed water and sunlight, your sleeping dreams need time and attention. For now, they may be curled up in the quiet dark, but there is no expiration date on their potential.

Our dreams can even benefit from time in stasis. Like a seed that must hold itself in limbo until there is enough space, sunshine, water, and nutrients to sustain it, sometimes our dreams have to wait until we have the right life experience, confidence, or motivation. While our Western sensibilities tend to encourage a state of constant striving, sometimes we would be wiser to practice a more organic way of becoming.

Jahren tells a story in Lab Girl about a lotus seed that scientists dug out of a peat bog in China. After the seed sprouted in the lab, the researchers radiocarbon-dated the discarded shell and found that the seed had been dormant for two thousand years. Truly, you can never say never.

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Jamie Lee Wallace I am a freelance content writer, columnist, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. For more from me, check out the archives for the  Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookInstagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared as a column in the Ipswich Chronicle, and subsequently on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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