Inspiration for Non-Fiction

This month, I’ve been working on a nonfiction book that’s been in my mind for many years. I have a (self-imposed) word count deadline that is pushing me to get back to it (click here to read post about this), but I wanted to pause that project to write a little bit here about my inspirations.

With fiction, it seems like inspiration can come from anywhere. Many authors have written about where they get their inspiration, including my colleagues here at Write to Live—Live to Write.

But with nonfiction, where do you start? I’ve been thinking about this book for many years, and have notes scattered in many places. How do I begin to put it together?

I started with all the reasons I feel inspired to write on this topic:

  • I wrote about who I think will benefit from this book (that’s still in my head.)
  • I wrote about how I hope the reader will be different after they read my book.
  • I wrote about why I want to write this book.
  • I wrote down my highest intention for writing this book.
  • I wrote down some of the memories of times when I could have used a book like the one I’m planning to write.
  • I wrote down some of the coping mechanisms, tools, skills, and resources I’ve used that might help my reader.

After that, I looked for inspiration in more concrete ways:

  • I went back to my old journals and used what I wrote in the past to springboard new thoughts for the book.
  • I reread articles I’d saved that inspired passion, disgust, or wonder in me and resurrected those emotions as I reread them. I wrote (fast and furiously) as I experienced those emotions again.

Lastly, I just turned off the internal editor and let it all flow.

Back in June, before I started Camp NaNo, I made the decision to let go of needing to know how the book will look in its final form. I don’t know if it’ll be a memoir, a self-help book, a combination of the two, or something completely different than either. For the moment, I don’t need to know.

All is need is a little inspiration.

Where do you get your inspiration for your nonfiction project?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: writer, blogger, life coach, family physician. You can read my life coaching blog here. 

 

 

What’s Your Favorite Writing Quote?

In getting ready for my CampNaNo experience, I started trolling my books and the Internet for good writing quotes. Here are a few of my favorites:

“The role of a writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.”
― Anaïs Nin

(That is the kind of writer I aspire to be. This quote is on a Post-It note where I can see it while I write.)

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
― Richard Bach

(Right now, I’m an amateur but I’m not quitting!)

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
― Natalie GoldbergWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

(I’m working on it. I do this in my journal—I didn’t always—but I’m also trying to get this kind of writing on the page in my current WIP.)

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

(This is the best advice on writing I’ve ever read. If it wasn’t for Anne Lamott and Bird by Bird, I would never have started writing again after fifteen years of avoiding it.)

“The problem is acceptance, which is something we’re taught not to do. We’re taught to improve uncomfortable situations, to change things, alleviate unpleasant feelings. But if you accept the reality that you have been given- that you are not in a productive creative period- you free yourself to begin filling up again.”
― Anne LamottBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

(One last quote by Anne Lamott. Accepting where I am in my writing life has been freeing for me. Instead of complaining I didn’t have any time to write, I started noticing the little pockets of time I did have and using them to write. I’m not writing a thousand words a day (most days) but I get something on the page just about every day. Success!)

What’s your favorite writing quote? Please share in the comments.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m in the midst of CampNaNo, which is exciting and fun, but I’m also on an elimination diet so I’m spending way more time in the kitchen than I had intended to when I signed up for CampNaNo. Oh well, by the end of July I’ll have my 25,000 words written and I’ll know if I’m allergic to soy, dairy, etc!

I’m Going to Camp!

My son is going to camp this summer, and so am I! Camp NaNoWriMo, that is!

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.03.00 AMCamp NaNoWriMo is a spin-off from National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, or even NaNo.

The best part about Camp NaNo, from my perspective, is the ability to choose my own word count. In order to “win” NaNo, you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In order to “win” camp NaNo, all you have to do is complete the word count you’ve set for yourself.

And you can change the word count even after July 1st. (At some point you have to let it stand, but I’m not exactly sure what that date is.)

Since I have always found 1,667 words a day to be daunting, no matter how fast I get my fingers to type, I’ve decided to take the attitude that it’s summer, and the living is easy, so why not cut that 50,000 word count in half?

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.29.15 AMI can do 25,000 words in July, right? There’s even one more day in the month of July than in the month of November, so my daily word count goal is only 807.

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you know that I love to set goals. And I love the outside accountability of the (Camp) NaNo community. I’ve signed up, committed to the word count, made a small cash donation to keep it real, and now I’m just waiting for July 1st when I can start watching my word count go up, up, up!

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.30.00 AMAs an added measure of accountability, I’ve asked to be assigned to a “cabin” with up to 11 other writers who are also writing nonfiction and who have a similar word count. I’ll find out my cabin assignment tomorrow. Can’t wait!

The biggest reason I’ve signed up for Camp NaNo is to put my goal of writing at the forefront of my brain. If I don’t, life will intervene, I’ll do a million other things in July, and I’ll be bummed out at the end of the month when I haven’t done the thing that is most important to me.

Writing is so personal; it’s only for me. It doesn’t benefit my family in any way, so it often gets pushed down the To-Do List until it falls off. Somehow, signing up for something like Camp NaNo helps me keep it at the top of my To Do List, even though it’s still really just for me.

Anyone else out there want to go to camp with me? Camp NaNo, here we come!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and grandmother. I’m excited to be coming to a time when I’ll have a little more time to write and I appreciate all the support this community has given me. Happy writing, everyone!

Writing Rituals

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott again. Her book, Bird by Bird, is my favorite writing book of all time. If you haven’t read it, go to your local library and check it out today.

But right now, I’m reading Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair. In it, Ms. Lamott talks a lot about rituals and routines:

“Daily rituals, especially walks, even forced marches around the neighborhood, and schedules, whether work or meals with non-awful people, can be the knots you hold on to when you’ve run out of rope.”

When I think of difficult times, such as after the loss of a loved one, I agree that daily rituals have been “knots” that have allowed me to hang on. I think of doing the work of caring for my son after the death of my beloved uncle. The daily rituals with my son—morning, noon, and night–helped me pull myself through those first days without my uncle.

And what about my writing life? I don’t have that many rituals around my writing. I’m an opportunistic writer at the moment—if I find myself with a few spare minutes, I whip out my computer, my iPad, or I grab a receipt and write on the back of it. While I believe this method has many advantages, I can see that a little ritual might be a good thing.

I looked up writing rituals online and read about Ernest Hemingway and his habit of writing at dawn, while standing at a typewriter. I read about Maya Angelou’s habit of checking into a hotel for the day to write, then going home in the evening. While these writers’ habits were familiar to me, I had never before read that Demosthenes routinely shaved half his head so he couldn’t go out in public. He’d stay home and write until his hair grew back. That seems a little drastic (plus I’d still have to go do the grocery shopping!)

I polled my fellow writers here at Live to Write-Write to Live about their writing rituals:

  • Wendy, like me, tends to write when she can, doesn’t currently have a lot of writing rituals (but she looks forward to the day when her ritual is heading out to her tiny writer’s cabin with her faithful dog, Pippin.)
  • Lee, too, isn’t much for writing rituals.
  • Deborah has written about her writing rituals before for this blog (click here to read.) Her ritual starts with NAMS, which I think I might try after reading her piece on it.

For me, right now, just showing up is enough of a ritual. Opening my computer , creating a new, blank document, and writing Sh***y First Draft across the top is enough. Opening my iPad and going back to a blog post idea I jotted down the week before while sitting in a waiting room is enough. Grabbing a notebook by my bed and writing down a story idea in the middle of the night is enough.

One of these days, I’ll have a more robust writing ritual and I’ll be a better writer for it. In the meantime, I’ll keep checking out other writers’ rituals and see what might work for me when the time is right.

What is your writing ritual these days?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, stepmother, and (brand-new) grandmother. I’m enjoying the moments when I write and I look forward to having a little more time for writing in the fall when my son starts school. Then I might need a ritual to get me keep my butt in the chair!

 

When I Can’t Write

Sometimes I get into a place, mentally, where the words just won’t come. It’s not really writer’s block, it’s usually when I’m going through some situation that causes a lot of emotion, which makes it difficult for me to “clear my mind” and write.

But I know that situations change, emotions fade, and my mind will clear—eventually.

So I don’t get too upset about it.

There are things I do do when this happens that seem to help me settle my emotions and gain that clarity I’m looking for.

One thing is I move more. For example, I had a lot of “to-dos” on my list today, but I went snowshoeing for two hours anyway. Returning from the woods and the pond, I was much calmer and ready to tackle that list.

Another thing I do is anything that involves using my hands. I’ve picked up various projects and worked on them in the past few weeks, from a shawl I’m knitting to a latch-hook rug I’m making for my son.

I’ve also started making zentangles. I’ve always been a doodler, but I recently read about making doodles as a meditative practice. I took to it right away.

Here’s the first zentangle I drew:

IMG_3330

 

 

 

 

Here’s the most recent one I drew:

IMG_3333

All you need is a pencil, a pen, and a piece of paper (or a tile, which is just a small square piece of very nice paper to draw on.)

I have found doing the zentangles therapeutic, and I’ve also gotten some ideas about my writing while doing them. When I do them right before bed, I find myself more relaxed and I’ve been getting more ideas. It’s a right-brain exercise that often leads to a left-brain “ah-ha” moment.

The point is just to do them. Insights may come, but the act of focusing on a small square of paper and a repetitive design is what’s important. The hardest part is giving myself permission to “waste” time in this way. When I do, I’m always glad I did.

How do you clear your mind and settle your emotions so you can write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. I’m plugging away at my writing life, in the midst of everything else, just like everyone else I know.

 

Writer Profile: Vincent Panella

Vincent PanellaIn her recent post about time, Jamie wrote, “Time. It’s what we writers fight for. Without it, we have no hope of bringing our written creations to life. We need time to study, time to read, time to ponder, time to dream, and of course – time to write.”

My neighbor Vincent Panella writes. He’s arranged his entire adult life around writing. “When I’m writing, I’m happy,” he says. “When I’m not writing I’m not happy.”

Vincent wrote his first novel when he was twenty-three, while he was in the army. “I drank six pots of coffee a day and the book poured out of me. But my writing was better than my characters, I didn’t have any knowledge of form.”

He burned the manuscript –and wrote five more novels – or maybe six; he’s lost count. At one point, he had an agent; Vincent Panellaat another, he sold a novel to Simon & Schuster, but they never published the book. “I’ve had a lot of near successes,” he says – and he keeps writing.

After graduating from the Iowa Workshop in 1971, Panella spent a year as a reporter for a daily paper – a job he loved for what he learned, but it kept him too busy with daily deadlines to write fiction. He switched to jobs teaching writing at law schools in Iowa and Florida before landing in Vermont.

Otherside by Vincent PanellaDespite growing up in Queens, Panella found life in New York City too distracting for writing. “You create a world you inhabit and you think about it all the time,” he says. In the course of his career, he has written in a closet, in a small cabin, and in now in a comfortable outbuilding on his Vermont farm. Even when he was teaching, Panella started every day in the studio building beside his old farmhouse, where he writes by hand. “I don’t turn the computer on until later in the day. I try not to check email until I finish writing.”

Cutter'sIsland by Vincent PanellaTen years ago, Panella took a year off from teaching to write full time. He never went back. Since then, he’s published two books and written countless stories.

Cutter’s Island (Chicago Review Press) came out in 2009 to critical success. In 2010, Panella self- LostHearts by Vincent Panellapublished Lost Hearts, a collection of short stories, also to great reviews. While he’s glad he brought the stories out, he says, “I don’t have the energy for that any more. It’s too much of a hustle, and I just want to write.”

Now 75, Panella is currently concentrating on novellas and short stories. His novella Canada can be read on line at wipsjournal.com. He’s now more concerned about writing than selling his work. He says, “I have more stories to write than I have time and more work than I can really accomplish, and I think that’s a good thing.”

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, blogger, and pen for hire. Learn more about her writing services on line at www.deborahleeluskin.com