Evening Pages

EVENING PAGES

I’ve added Evening Pages to my daily writing practice. I take time at the end of the day to reflect on both what and how I’ve put words on the page. Evening Pages provide closure to a day that starts with Morning Pages.

MORNING PAGES
Evening Pages

Morning Pages help me write through the fog of all that I have to do.

I’ve been writing Morning Pages as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artists Way for years. Morning Pages are helpful as both a meditative practice to finding my center and as a tunnel into my uncensored creative ideas.

Yes, Morning Pages sometimes end up being mundane lists of tasks I need to complete on any given day. But often committing those tasks to ink helps get them out of the way of what I need to write . Morning Pages often morph into a rough draft of my work for the day, whether it’s a speech, a blog post, or a section of one of my current books.

Morning Pages help me settle in to my concentration. In an ideal world, I would maintain that focus without interruption, but interruptions happen. Lately, I’ve been examining how I cope with interruptions, whether they’re internal interruptions (like thinking about lunch at 9 am), or external interruptions, like a business or family obligation I have to take care of. Regardless of the cause, I’m trying to teach myself how to recapture my mind so I can return to my imaginative work. Evening Pages help me perform this self-examination.

EVENING PAGES
Evening Pages

Evening Pages allow for reflection.

Evening Pages allow me to reflect on how I followed through on my Morning Pages and how I coped with interruptions during the day. Evening Pages allow me to see how I handle disruption. I can either praise my efforts to recoup my concentration or consider how else I might have reacted that would have preserved my focus.

 

Evening Pages

Evening pages are about sustaining the creative mind.

Evening Pages have already helped me see how many interruptions are of my own making. For years, I thought it was family life that was the major source of interruptions, and maybe it used to be. But Evening Pages have helped me realize that I’m often the source of my own distraction, not the other members of my household. Evening Pages allow me to examine just how I undermine my focus, and they are where I brainstorm ways to sustain the flow of words, even when writing what is uncomfortable and true.

Evening Pages are helping me learn how to cope with the powerful feeling of doing something dangerous and wrong by penning my truth on the page. Evening Pages are helping me to give voice to my truth.

The very process of written reflection allows me to examine more clearly my creative process: what I wrote, what comes next, and where my pen is taking me. Writing is often an act of discovery, and these Evening Pages help me stay oriented to the progress of my journey – even when I’m uncertain of my destination.

Cameron says that Morning Pages “provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.” I’m finding my Evening Pages to be a bit more deliberate, more reflective. Morning Pages are about unleashing the creative mind; Evening Pages are about sustaining it.

If you give Evening Pages a try, if you already have an end-of-day writing practice, or if you have any questions about Evening Pages, please be in touch via the Comments section below.

As always, thanks for reading.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator. She lives in southern Vermont and on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com

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.

Thanking My Students

Thanking my students

Thanking my students for their willingness to be vulnerable and learn.

Tonight, I’ll be giving an informal commencement address thanking the students who’ve participated in the memoir-writing class I’ve been teaching at the Moore Free Library for the past twelve weeks. This is what I’ll say:

  • Thank you for your courage to show up and bleed onto the page.
  • Thank you for trusting each other and me with your stories.
  • Thank you for your eagerness to learn about language and how to control it.
  • Thank you for your remarkable stories about the human condition, told in engaging language that awakens your readers’ interest and compassion.
  • It is this storytelling that equalizes us, and I’m humbled and honored by your generosity in sharing yours.

The class has been remarkable from start to finish: from when the librarian applied for and received a generous grant to support my teaching, to  tonight, when students will hold a reading for family and friends. We’ll also eat cake.

As with any good “commencement,” this is not the end. The class will continue as a Rosefire Writers Circle, where I will lead the group in automatic writing practice. In the RWC, we practice timed writing exercises designed to prime the creative pump. This process liberates writers to focus and fly, letting loose the unknown in the wonder of words. We immediately read this new work, bearing witness to the strange and wonderful stories that emerge. And we do so by practicing deep listening in a positive response method that engenders a synergy. Participants in these groups invariably write more, write better, and write with greater confidence.

We’ve blocked out Five Fridays, and opened enrollment to include newcomers to the group. If you live nearby and are interested, please be in touch.

Deborah Lee Luskin, photoDeborah Lee Luskin lives in southern Vermont and is housed on the web at her newly renovated site, www.deborahleeluskin.com

Force Quit

Martin, Bernie & Norman

These three men have been friends for over 80 years. My dad’s the youngest (in the middle); he turns 90 next month.

While I’m hiking The Long Trail, I’m reposting old favorites. This one originally published on June 23, 2015.

Sometimes, when you have too many programs open on your desktop, the computer freezes, and the only remedy is to perform a Force Quit and shut the machine down. Well, last weekend, I learned that this works for writers, as well. My gift to my dad this last Father’s Day was to drive him from Vermont to New Jersey, so he could attend a friend’s ninetieth birthday. Even though it was a quick trip – if you can call ten hours in the car quick – it necessitated an overnight.

I brought enough work for a week - at least.

I brought enough work for a week – at least.

I packed my computer, research materials for one project, and writing assignments for another. I also brought along a novel for pleasure reading, and the issue of The New Yorker that just arrived in the mail. Realistically, I figured the least I could do was catch up on Revise With Confidence: Self-editing for the Serious Writer, the free on-line course I’m taking with Joan Dempsey.

With an old friend. We talked hard and laughed harder. Great visit.

With an old friend. We talked hard and laughed harder. Great visit.

While Dad and his friends partied, I met an old friend for dinner. We talked hard and laughed harder for a three-hour visit. Then Dad and I checked in to our swank hotel. It was late; I was tired; we had to make an early start the next day. I figured I could at least log on to the self-editing course, so I fired up my computer and ran into a ten-dollar firewall the hotel wanted for twenty-four hours of wifi. I was outraged. As far as I’m concerned, connectivity in a hotel is as important as hot water and a bed. And this was no chain-by-the-side-of-the-road affair, but an historic hotel smack in the middle of downtown with a price tag to match. In fact, if they’d buried the internet fee in the price of the room, I would have paid it. I just didn’t want to be nickeled and dimed.   I looked at my bag. There was plenty I could do without the internet, though I frozen computercouldn’t decide which project to tackle. In fact, I was stuck with my brain wheeling around without traction, just like the swirling rainbow when my computer gets stuck.hotelbed I looked from the desk to the bed, remembered I had a mini bottle of cognac in my toiletries bag and a novel to read. I showered and crawled between the starched sheets. In the end, I’m grateful for the ten-dollar internet fee. It was just what I needed to initiate a Force Quit. Instead of working, I slept like the proverbial log. I even slept in, till a little past six. But when I awoke, I felt rested and ready for the drive back. But first, I sat down at the desk with paper and pen, and I drafted this blog. nip

Even though Deborah Lee Luskin is currently attempting a through-hike of Vermont’s Long Trail, you can still receive An Essay Every Wednesday emailed directly to your inbox by subscribing on her website, www.deborahleeluskin.com  It’s easy, it’s entertaining, it’s educational, and it’s free.

Breathing and Writing

Meditative breathing helps me regain my concentration.

Meditative breathing helps me regain my concentration.

I once heard Malachy McCourt begin a commencement address memorable for its brazen wisdom. “If you’ve got one foot in the future and one foot in the past,” he said, “it means you’re pissing on the present.”

I was reminded of this vivid image as I was lamenting the tasks still on my To Do (set up an interview, draft an article) while anticipating a visit from my nieces and their kids. Lamenting the past or lamenting the future wasn’t going to help me get this post up. Writing requires being present in the here and now.

Over the years, I’ve developed three fail-safe strategies to bring my mind to bear on the work on my desk regardless of what’s going on at home.

  1. The first method is journaling. Sometimes, I just narrate how I arrived at work – telling the stories of the hurdles I had to jump, which can be anything from scheduling an appointment for my 91-year-old dad to mopping cat barf off the kitchen floor. Other times, I list all the things I need to do at the end of my workday. Listing these tasks helps me see which are essential and which can be delayed if I run out of time. I always run out of time. Happily, there’s no expiration date on housework, which never goes away.

2. The second method is to go for a walk.  There’s something about the rhythm of walking that shakes loose my ideas and empties the noise in my head so I can hear the voice that will inform my prose. I’ve walked thousands of miles in pursuit of concentration. Walking has the added benefit of keeping me fit.

3. In the past year, I’ve been learning a third and highly effective method of calming myself into focus: meditation. I’d failed at meditation many times: I could barely sit still and I could never empty my mind. And then, in an outgrowth of my yoga practice, I’ve learned that I didn’t have to see a blank screen behind my eyelids; all I have to do is pay attention to my breath.

We breathe from the moment we’re born until the moment we die; it’s how we stay alive. Most of the time, we don’t pay any attention to our breath– until we notice we’re holding it, uncertain what to write next. That’s when we run low of oxygen, starving our brain and robbing our blood, paralyzing our lungs and forcing our pulse to gallop until we gasp.

But meditation – simply paying attention to inhaling, then exhaling – is naturally calming.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Meditative breathing brings me back to the present. In the absolute present, I don’t worry about what I’m going to make for dinner, even though there will be fifteen of us at the table tonight. Instead, I can think clearly and mindfully about the task at hand (crafting this post) and make the best use of the time I have at my desk.

Do you have a method for focusing your concentration?

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-wining novel Into the Wilderness, a story of middle-aged lovers, set in Vermont in 1964. She blogs Wednesdays at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

 

 

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.

 

Organizing Systems for Files

Papers to be filedTurning the calendar to a new year is always an opportunity to establish new and improved organizing systems of all kinds. Over the years, I’ve developed a few of my own, from celebrating Boxing Day by boxing up the year’s receipts to cleaning up my computer by archiving old files on a thumb drive.

I find the systems I have for December into January are easy compared to the filing that must be done day-to-day during the year. And as anyone who has spent any amount of time hunting through a hard drive looking for a misplaced document knows, not being able to find an earlier draft of an article can be a real time sink. So this is what I do:

First of all, I use folders: For this blog, I have a folder marked NHWN Blog. In it, I have sub-folders, one for each year I’ve been contributing (since 2011!). That’s where I park each post as I write it, creating a sub-sub folder if I write several drafts.

I always write several drafts.

And this is how I tell them apart:

I give each draft a title followed by the date. I use the title both in the header on the document and as a file name. The first draft for this post, for instance, is Organizing Principles NHWN2015_0104.

Placing the title and date in the header is especially helpful when I print a draft to work with hard copy.

When I return to a draft and make changes, I change the date. If it’s still the same day, I add a letter after the date. (The second draft of this piece includes a title change: Organizing Systems NHWN2015_0104A) When I’m sending drafts to an editor or client, I often add a time tag to the date, so we both know which is the most recent draft. With drafts zipping back and forth through cyberspace, date and time tags literally keep us on the same page.

Whenever I make substantial changes to a document, I use the “Save As” function. This way, I have preserved my earlier work, in case I do want to return to something I’ve cut. This system also makes cutting less painful: The deadwood is gone from the current version, but it’s not in the trash, and I can always go back and consult what I’ve written and tossed. (The third draft of this post is the last: Organizing Systems NHWN2015_0104B)

While I often write a couple of drafts of a post, I write countless drafts of my fiction, and keeping each draft is quite helpful during the initial stages of discovery – when I’m learning about my characters and what they have to say. I probably cut out at least as much as I save in the course of a novel, maybe more. In fact, I’m wondering if I cut the wrong sections of Ellen, and I’m comforted to know that I can sift through the outtakes and see if there are gems I need to reinstate when I’m ready to return to that novel.

I make no claims that this is a perfect system, but it’s an organic one I’ve developed over time, and it works for me.

What systems have you developed?

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, educator and speaker who lives in southern Vermont and blogs at Living in Place.