Writing With Spirit

By Liz, doing everything under the sun to call in the muse!

You may have noticed that I can be a little bit “woo woo.” Luckily I have Jessie to commiserate with when everyone else thinks I’m a little too crazy! But my woo woo-ness has served me well over the years, and even more so lately as I take on more writing projects and at the same time, think through what I want my future as a writer to be.

So many of us creative people have, at one time or another, experienced blocks to our creativity. These blocks could range from not knowing where to go next with a current project to being unable to start writing or creating at all, possibly because of something you learned as a child about creativity being shameful or unrealistic to pursue as your life’s work. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, calls these blocks “creative injuries.”

I experienced those creative injuries myself along the way, including an ingrained belief that writing was not something I could do for a living. I spent years writing only peripherally, and when I did finally take jobs that centered on writing, I wasn’t paid well (you hear me, fellow journalists??). Eventually, through a lot of work – and applying Cameron’s practices – I found my way to the page and, well, here I am.

But I was still missing something. Even though I was successfully writing two series, I was still struggling – with process, with procrastination, with plots. With taking myself seriously enough to expect more for myself and my writing life.

Until I remembered that writing is my soul work. Which meant that everything I need to be successful – and peaceful – is within me, and I simply had to tune into it. Once I started applying my “soul practice” to my writing life, everything started to change. I stopped procrastinating, started turning out more words daily, “found” more time where there used to feel like none was available, got more inspiration. As a result, my two looming deadlines aren’t causing me stress. I’m approaching my writing time with joy, and I’m confident everything will get done. When I think back to where I was a year ago – stressed to the max, racing to meet a seemingly impossible deadline amidst a spate of personal crises, getting barely any sleep – it’s almost like I can’t even remember who that person was anymore.

So here’s my five-step process for how I did that:

  1. Ask. Ask that place inside you – whether you call it the universe, your muse, God, your soul, it doesn’t matter – for help. Set your intention for creativity and inspiration. It can be as simple as, I need guidance today. Help me find the right words and put them on the page. And be confident you’ll be heard!
  2. Meditate. I know, going completely still and breathing used to seem impossible for me too. Especially with crazy writer brain, where other people are always talking. But I’m telling you – it works. Five minutes a day can totally change your writing life. You can use a guided meditation, music, or nothing at all. You can walk in nature and try to still your thoughts. I started using guided meditations by Kris Carr and Gabby Bernstein, and one of the key things I learned from them is that thoughts are always going to interrupt you – you just need to bring your attention back to your breath and your intention. There’s also a fabulous app called Insight Timer that offers both guided meditations and music to meditate by, whatever your preference. But really, you need to remember to just breathe.
  3. Journal. This is my other non-negotiable practice. Journaling daily can help you get out of your own way. By releasing some of those thoughts that won’t leave you alone, you clear the space for your inspiration to show up. I still use Cameron’s practice – three pages a day, and it can be complete crap. Doesn’t matter. Just get the clutter out of your head.
  4. Use affirmations. Yes, the way you talk to yourself really does matter. If you’re always saying, I can’t do this, I can’t meet this deadline, I have no imagination, my characters have nothing to say, I have nothing to say, I’m going to have to go work at the grocery store because my contracts will be cancelled any minute…Well, you get the idea. It’s much better to plant positive seeds, even if they feel like complete and utter BS at the time. The more you say them, the more they’ll stick. I created this affirmation for myself:

    Say your affirmation daily. Feel it.
  5. Have fun and be thankful. How lucky are we to be creative people? And we’re all creative. It doesn’t matter if you write or not. However you express your creativity, be grateful for it. And most of all, enjoy it. Often we as writers put too much pressure on our work. We need to get back to the joy. And really, what else is there?

Back to School

By Liz, impatiently counting down the minutes until Crime Bake this weekend

Recently, I was asked to speak to a group of high school kids who were interested in writing. I have to admit, when I first got the request I was hesitant. I remembered high school well, and I know how tough that audience can be. But in the spirit of “Do something every day that you’re afraid of,” (who said that, again?) I decided to go for it.

I spent a lot of time prepping for this one. The organizer told me to talk about my background, how I got started writing, the writing process – all the basics. I could handle that. I chose some of my favorite books about writing to show them some of the best resources available.

Books

But I wasn’t convinced that would be enough. I wanted to give them something meaningful, something they could truly take away and use.

So I noodled it. And then it hit me one night during my ride home from work – I needed to tell these kids the things they shouldn’t believe. The things people tell kids who express an interest in writing. The things writers tell people interested in writing. All the myths that will derail an aspiring creative.

I spent a lot of time letting other people’s beliefs in writing, and making a living as a writer, fill me with uncertainty. My parents were proud of my writing abilities, yet it was hard for them to imagine just anyone achieving the appropriate level of “productive member of society” by writing books. I mean, Danielle Steel and Stephen King were the exceptions, right? So they nudged me towards teaching.

I never bit that hook, but spent plenty of time convincing myself that I needed “sensible” jobs. I let a lot of opportunities pass me by. Despite the fact that I’d sold the first short story I ever wrote as well as a few essays, I still didn’t have the confidence that I could make the writing thing work. When I finally decided to get on with my purpose, I became a reporter. That job inspired me, raised my confidence level and ultimately gave me a sense of what I could do with a pen.

From that moment on, I still worked “sensible” jobs, but they always related to writing. I had to remind myself of it daily, but it was true – I was making a living as a writer. True, not through books – yet – but I believed it would come. And it has.

A lot of that was due to the work I did with Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. Cameron has helped people all over the world discover – and more importantly, recover – their creativity. The exercises in this book, and the ongoing exercises, like morning pages, have truly saved my creative life. I hope these kids don’t yet need it, but if and when they do, now they might remember where to find the inspiration they need to move forward and fulfill their dreams.

Artist's Way

So that was my message to the kids. Listen to your heart. Write what you want. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that writing won’t put food on your table. You probably won’t be a famous, well-paid author right out of the gate, but there are other ways to make money writing while you hone your craft. Tune everyone else out, and tune into yourself. Find and take opportunities. Open your mind.

And guess what? The session was a hit. The kids who came were mostly very serious about their writing, soaking up information and asking a lot of questions. I left feeling good about what I’d offered them. If I reached one kid who was having doubts about their career choice and inspired him or her to keep going, then I was successful.

Next time I’m asked to do an event for high schoolers, I’ll be quick to say yes.