Goodbye and Farewell

GOODBYE

Dear Readers: This is my last post for Live to Write – Write to Live.

It has been deeply gratifying to post my thoughts about the business and craft of writing here every other week for almost eight years. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge, my successes and my challenges with you. And I’ve loved the “Likes” and comments you have given me in reply.

I’ve come to recognize many of your avatars, enjoyed stimulating correspondence with others of you, and consider a few of you my on-line friends. I will miss you, but it’s time for me to consolidate.

CONSOLIDATION

The impasse I came to with Vermont Public Radio has shaken me in curious and unlooked for ways. Most notably, I am honoring a need to consolidate my thoughts and energies to telling the two stories I’ve been working on in fits and starts these past years. I recognize the need to make telling them my priority, and to do that, I have to give up the shorter, easier, extremely gratifying work of writing for you.

TURNING INWARD

Between the death of my father, the end of my term as Chair of the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, and my break with VPR, I sense in myself a great moving inward, as if I’m finally ready to sit still and listen to the voice rising from deep inside.

LIVING IN PLACE

I will continue to post an essay every Wednesday on my personal blog, Living in Place. I invite you to join me there, where I write about our human condition by telling stories. Humans are a narrative species. We thrive on stories.

For reasons I don’t begin to understand, I seem to have been chosen to tell them. I hope you will honor me by subscribing to Living in Place. I look forward to seeing your avatars there, and to engaging in thoughtful exchanges of ideas and opinions.

FARE WELL, WRITE WELL

I wish you all the courage to tell your own stories. May you always find the exact word you need to say what you mean and thereby engage in that intimate relationship between writer and reader.

Fare well,

Deborah.

Goodbye and FarewellDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator who blogs weekly at Living in Place.

 

How Peaceful the Disconnected Life Can Be

My studio was originally Internet-free; now it is intentionally so.

Earlier this week, the Internet connection to my studio went down and I was reminded how peaceful the disconnected life can be.

I had no Internet when I first moved into my Chapel of the Imagination, as I call my one-room studio tucked into a wooded corner of our land. At first, I was stunned by the intense quiet; I wrote with concentration and focus.

It was only when I returned to the house to use the printer or send email that I fell into those black holes of distraction: Facebook, news, solitaire.

As my blogging output increased, I had to return to the house and connect more frequently for fact checking, uploading photos and formatting posts. Reluctantly, I wired the studio to the Internet, which saved me the walk to the house, but where I often succumbed to the time suck of cyber distraction. Even when I was on-line to research a subject, I found myself spinning into information that was as off-topic as it was interesting – and hardly better than going deep into Facebook.

So when my connection went down, I was amazed how quickly my focus returned, and how sharp my mind without all the cyber static that has crept into my workspace.

About the same time, I started reflecting on my day with Evening Pages, rediscovering the joys of writing by hand.

The combination of turning off the static and physically shaping my words on the page has been profound. I’m recapturing the sustained quiet where my imagination is most audible and my ability to capture my ideas into words most profound.

In order to protect this renewed quiet, I’m turning off my email and silencing my phone in the studio. By disconnecting to the interruptions and distractions of the Internet, I’m concentrating on the words and stories at hand.

What are your distractions and how do you tame them?

walking & writing

At the end of the Long Trail, 9/8/2016.

Note to my Readers: I wrote Lessons from the Long Trail after hiking from Massachusetts to Canada along the spine of Vermont’s Green Mountains in 2016. This summer I’ll be hiking from Alaska into the Yukon along the Chilkoot Trail. While I’m gone, I’ll be republishing some favorite posts both here and at Living in Place. I hope you’ll check them both out. I’ll look forward to reading and responding to your comments when I return. All best.

Jane Kenyon’s Advice

I just came across this gem from the late poet, Jane Kenyon, and I thought it might give others guidance for planning their weekend.

Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.

~Jane Kenyon

All best wishes for enough quiet to hear your voice rise within,

~Deborah

How Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster

Writing a Book is Like Riding a Roller Coaster.

Writing Roller Coaster

Writing a book is sometimes like riding a roller coaster.

It’s been a long slog uphill as I’ve worked on a long piece of narrative non-fiction on and off for going on three years. The on part has been the research and some published articles; the off part has been a heavy sense of guilt for dragging my feet.

But in the last few weeks, something’s shifted, and I’m coasting now.

Maybe it’s a decision not to be so hard on myself, or to give up feeling badly about the slow pace of my creative process, or finally getting some snow in March. Whatever the reason, I’m riding this wave of focus and forward motion. In fact, I’ve dedicated myself to it so thoroughly that yesterday I didn’t draft my post for Live to Write – Write to Live. And this morning, I decided that I had to work on my project first.

So, while I’m sorry to disappoint any readers who look forward to my posts (and honestly, I have no idea if there are any readers who anticipate my alternate Tuesday posts), my excuse is that I’m modeling the behavior of a writer dedicated to her work. And like writers and plumbers and workers of all kinds, and parents and caregivers and volunteers, I have only so much time, compressed by middle age, when the reality of time running out becomes tangible.

Like all of us, I’ve had to prioritize, and today I put writing Learning to Hunt ahead of my commitment to this blog.

I know I’m lucky: I’m choosing one writing project over another. I know that many writers have to choose between making their kids breakfast or sitting down at their desk. I’ve been there – at that desk at five in the morning so I could write before the kids woke, and I taught them how to make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as soon as they were counter height (with the help of a step-stool, I might add).

And while kids grow up, parents age. I’m now caring for my 93-year old dad. But I still make it a priority to write. And now, I’m making it a priority to advance the first draft of this book.

I’ve achieved a critical mass on this project, climbed up the steep slope of trying to figure out how to start. I’m now in one of those sections of composition where each decision I’ve made up to now makes the next one more evident.

I know this roller coaster, though. I’ve been on it before. And I know that there will be other steep hills ahead. But I’m making the most of this exhilarating ride where the words flow and the story takes place.

I’m counting on your forgiveness for posting a few hours late, and I’m wishing you all equally joyous rides where ink flows from your pens, forming just the right words on your page.

Deborah Lee Luskin makes her blog deadlines most of the time: every other Tuesday here with thoughts about the business and craft of writing, and essays every Wednesday at Living In Place. Thanks for reading.

Walking My Way Back to My Desk

Walking & Writing

Walking my way back to my thoughts.

I’d been working full-time revising a novel from August twentieth until September twenty-first. Those were four glorious weeks of concentrated work, during which I never had to wonder, What am I going to write today? I worked on the revision morning and afternoon, completing all other assignments as breaks.

I love working deeply in a book, where I have its alternative universe to keep me company during the activities of daily living, from weeding the garden to hanging the laundry and other necessary chores. I’m particularly pleased about how I juggled this delicious revision task with the interruptions for the kitchen renovation, which demanded my irregular attention.

Amtrak's Vermonter

Editing the typescript on the train.

I pushed myself to have a typescript finished and printed in time to read it on the train to New York City for a weekend visiting friends, and I managed to proofread this version on the train ride home.

But back home, I didn’t have the anchor of this project to keep me grounded, even though I need to update the document before sending it to my next set of readers. It’s finish work, just like the kitchen, where I needed to make frequent decisions. In fact, the finish work of both the kitchen and novel are similar, demanding decisions about smaller and smaller details – a chapter heading, paragraph break, comma usage for one, and a door stopper, cabinet pulls and knobs for the other. Not just which ones, but where. The details seem endless.

And then there’s family life: my youngest and her partner returned from nearly six months hiking the Appalachian Trail, which they finished on the heels of a hurricane. They returned home tired and hungry. It’s been fun to feed them and hear their stories while they’re still fresh.

The upshot of this break in routine and concentration was first a sense of delirium – so happy to have completed the revision! How wonderful to meet an adult child for dinner in Manhattan before spending the weekend with friends! So relieved the hiking kids are safely off the trail!

But the delirium ended as it always does – with a crash.

Walking and writing.

Walking helps me find my writing voice after any hiatus. (photo courtesy of Leadership ‘n Motion)

I didn’t resume my routine. I didn’t check my planner. I didn’t reign in my mind, and my life wobbled out of control. I missed deadlines for two posts. (This one should have appeared last week.) I went to the grocery store without my list. I spent hours, it seemed, looking for my phone.

After four days, I’d had enough. I returned to my desk, I sifted my emails, and I went for a walk. It was on the walk that the word “Scattered” came to me, and I knew that wobbling from lack of routine and losing my focus would be the subject of a post. And that’s how I found my way back to work.

What’s different from the thousand other times this spinning off-center has happened, is that this time, instead of beating myself up for what I didn’t do, I’m congratulating myself on knowing how to pick up the fragments of my scattered concentration: Go for a walk, return to my desk, and start writing.

For me, the best way to regroup is to go for a walk and listen for my voice.

It works every time.

How to you regain concentration after it’s been disrupted?

writing and walking

Kate Link Lampel and I are collaborating on Women Women Walking and Writing Toward Wisdom on 11/4/17

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, walker and educator. She’s hosting Women Walking and Writing toward Wisdom WALKshop with walker and life coach Kate Lampel Link on Saturday, November 4, from 9 am – 4 pm in Newfane, Vermont. Early Bird registration ends October 7. For more information and to register, click here.

Writing Rituals

One of my writing rituals is to get to my desk early, before my critical editor's awake.

One of my writing rituals is to get to my desk early, before my critical editor’s awake.

Over the years I’ve developed writing rituals that help me face the blank page, like getting to my desk early in the morning, before my editor’s awake. It would seem as if my critical editor is a late sleeper, so these early hours find me at my creative best, most willing to take risks, to shine light into the dark and to have the courage to say what I see.

As the sun comes up, my logical mind kicks into gear. This is the part of my brain that sees patterns and helps me arrange characters, scenes and events into a narrative arc. By late morning, my editor gets out of bed, and she sees ways to improve language and syntax; cut repetition and ask the hard questions like, What’s this about? What are you trying to achieve here? How can you rewrite it to emphasize what matters? She’s tough, but she has my best interests at heart.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

My desk.

I’ve fought for my mornings, and now they’re inviolate. I never make appointments before noon so that I can write, undisturbed, anywhere from four to seven hours, depending on when I arrive at my desk.

My studio is no longer internet- and telephone- free.

My studio is no longer internet- and telephone- free.

That desk is in my jewel box of a studio, separate from the house and its chores as well as the drama of family life. For the last five years, the studio has been phone- and internet- free, but when I found myself walking back and forth to the house too often to fact check, I knew it was time to plug in the wires we buried when we built the place. Now, I can get my work done from one desk.

But I’ve also learned there’s a fine line between ritual and rigidity. Some days, I can’t get out to the studio first thing. Just recently, I had to record a commentary in the morning for broadcast later the same day. After recording, I sat down at the public library, writing through the afternoon, right up until six o’clock yoga. Confession: writing outside the comfort of my studio and in the company of strangers was a terrific change of pace.

There was a time when I’d let an interruption of my morning throw me off writing all day. I now have too much work to allow that to happen; I also understand that as important as it is to have routines and rituals, flexibility matters more.

Flexibility matters. (free photo from pixabay)

Flexibility matters.
(free photo from pixabay)

Flexibility matters because life happens, and so do ideas, often at the same time. I’ve learned the hard way that I won’t always remember the brainstorm I have while in the dentist’s chair. I’ve also learned that both long walks and long drives are conducive to sustained narrative thoughts, and the best way to preserve these ideas is to write them down right away.

So if there were only one ritual I could advise, it would be to keep a pen and paper handy at all times, or keep your phone charged and use its voice-memo function to hold on to the idea until you can write it down.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we talk about writing habits as if ritual is the alchemy that guarantees writing success. It’s not the ritual that matters, but the work of laying down words. If you’re a writer, you’re writing all the time, wherever you are.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the award-winning author of Into the Wilderness, a love story between people in their mid-sixties, set in Vermont during the Goldwater – Johnson presidential campaign in 1964. She blogs at Living in Place and The Middle Ages.

Month, Week, Day

As a free-lance writer I am my own boss, so I’ve developed a system for staying on-track I call Month, Week, Day.

Every month, I list my goals.

Every month, I list my goals.

MONTH

Every month, I list my goals. These include both Big Ticket items, like the two books I’m working on, one a novel and one a piece of non-fiction, and the Smaller Tasks, which include my blogs, radio commentaries, newspaper editorials and work-for-hire. Some of these goals have deadlines. I post here at Live to Write – Write to Live every other Tuesday. I post to Living In Place on Wednesdays, and I submit The Middle Ages column to The Rutland Herald on the third Monday of the Month before posting it to my website the third Wednesday. I make my own deadlines for Vermont Public Radio and pencil in my ideas and due dates for two commentaries a month.

I also take time to list the meetings I’m already scheduled to attend as well as the interviews and events I either want to attend or need to schedule to research a commentary, my non-fiction project, or an editorial idea itching at the back of my mind.

By the time I’ve finished, I have a daunting list of goals for the month, so I break it down week by week.

I break the month's goals down week by week.

I break the month’s goals down week by week.

WEEK

Either at the end of work Friday or on Sunday evening, I fill in the following week’s deadlines, appointments, and meetings – all of which I schedule for afternoons. Because I’m one of those writers who thrives on consistency, I fence off my mornings for writing, and I try not to schedule anything else until after noon – and later, if possible.

Because writing is both sedentary and solitary, I also try to schedule exercise and social time for afternoon or evening. I attend local yoga classes that offer me both a good workout and a chance for brief interactions with friends.

But before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule what I have to do the next.

Before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule the next

Before I leave my desk for the day, I schedule the next

DAY

Because I’m not very good at breaking the novel down into small, measurable and achievable tasks, I simply block out the first hours of every morning and work on that first. This is the project closest to my heart at the moment, and because sustaining an entirely fictional reality requires fierce concentration, I work on it until my brain gives up. Then I write essays. I save research and formatting posts for late in the day.

My studio is internet- and telephone- free.

My studio is internet- and telephone- free.

There are two reasons for this. First, my studio is internet- and telephone- free, so I can’t squander my writing time on social media when I’m supposed to be writing; second, these tasks don’t require my morning mind, when I’m most fluent with words and ideas.

Sometimes, I’m distracted by other obligations. When that happens, I consult my list of goals for the month, week and day, which helps me reorient my mind to my desk. At the end of each day, week, and month, I cross off the tasks I’ve completed and the goals I’ve reached; I reassign those that I didn’t.

Thanks to a post Wendy wrote years ago about The Planner Pad, I have a great system for making Month, Week, Day work and for Accounting for Your Writing Time, but there are lots of good systems out there. The important first step is to develop a system and stick with it.

Like everyone else on the planet, I also have other obligations. Most notably, I have my 90-year old dad living nearby and a small farmstead at home, as well as children out in the world and a community in which I serve. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what obligation to tackle first and how I’ll ever get everything done. Well, I can’t always get everything done, so I do what’s most important first: I write.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into the Wilderness, a love story between middle-aged characters, set in Vermont in 1964.