What It Means To Start

Up in the treetops

Over the summer, I enrolled in Sarah Selecky’s course, Story is a State of Mind. I was part of the Summer School intensive, which meant I was going through the course in real-time with my classmates, and was accountable each Monday to post my assignment to our Wiki group, comment on the readings, and give my classmates feedback.

For me, it’s easier to start writing something when I’m accountable to someone else. I think it feeds into my desire to meet other people’s expectations of me, but that’s a psychoanalysis for another blog post.

Ever since the course ended in early September, I’ve been sitting on this draft of a story that I started during the program.

I think about the story and the main character all the time. I actually feel a little bit haunted by one line in particular that I wrote. I don’t know where it came from, but it startles me. And I know that’s good writing.

But getting started with the next step of the process is sort of killing me. The story needs to be finished, first of all. And then it needs revising and polishing. And another set of eyes on it for good measure.

But again– starting is killing me.

This is nothing new to you writers and artists out there. I’m sure this form of resistance is an old song and dance for many creatives.

It’s the same feeling I had when I went zip lining for the first time this summer. I was in New Hampshire with my husband and my family. We went to this aerial adventure course in the treetops of Loon Mountain. There were multiple zip lines throughout the course, ranging in length and height off the ground.

On the first line, I felt resistance. I hooked in my harness the way the instructor showed us. I had my hand in the right position to keep my body facing forward as I zipped through the trees. The prep work was done, but I physically couldn’t get off the platform. Every inch of my being resisted stepping off.

Someone recommended leaning back into my butt, where the harness basically cradles your entire body. When you feel that support, you know you can let go and be safe.

They were right. Once I leaned back just a touch and felt the support o the harness, I knew I could push past the physical resistance and just let go. So I did. And you know what? It was freaking great! Zip lines make you feel like a badass.

How does this relate to writing? Well, I’m standing on the platform with this story. I’m harnessed in. I can sort of see the other side. I just need to start the process and get back into the story. I need to lean into the harness and trust. And the harness is there, in so many forms– an MFA, feedback from other writers, encouragement from writer friends, a general sense of knowing this can be done because I’ve done it before, after all.

Why is it so hard to start? Because of what it means.

To start means to surrender, to have faith, to risk it all. To take the chance that the harness might snap mid-line, but to do it anyway.

Yet to start also means to take the chance that the harness will hold you until you get to the end of the line, that it’ll cradle your efforts the entire way, and release you safely on the other side. And then you’ll have to accept the fact that you did it. Even if your work never gets published, or earns you thirty rejection letters, or ends up spending the rest of its life on an external hard drive collecting dust, you did it.

What it means to start is this: letting go, and giving yourself a chance to see what you’re made of.

That’s me on the zip line!

Write Despite… Being Away From The Page For A While

When you come back to the page after too long away, you might feel stiff.

You haven’t been here in a while, so the first words will be the most difficult. And they’ll look the worst.

You’ll judge them for being wrong, for looking stupid together, for not living up to the potential they had in your mind.

Being away from the page for a while is ok. Coming back is what matters. Putting word after word, sentence after sentence until you’ve climbed your way out is what matters.

So write despite feeling rusty and out of practice. Write despite the distance that’s grown between you and your writing. If it calls to you, just start where you are.

Meet yourself here, in this moment, and begin again.

Where Writers Write: Hannah Jones

After a short hiatus, the Where Writers Write series is back for more glimpses into where our fellow writers actually do their work. Please welcome Hannah Jones to the series this week. If you’d like to share your writing space in this series, shoot me an email at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com.

I have a full time editorial position at a social science publishing company (which I love!) so my own writing is something I squeeze into the margins of my daily life.
The academic nature of the non-fiction manuscripts I work with during the day provides a nice balance for when I come home and want to write creatively; primarily, I write young adult and middle grade fiction, short stories, memoir, and am currently hard at work writing a pictorial history book about Byberry State Hospital (in Philadelphia) that is forthcoming from Arcadia Publishing.

Because writing creatively is a treat, I really look forward to and make the best use of the one or two hours of writing time I get.

What is your writing space like?

My writing space is a 6’x 6’ corner of my living room. One desk–the one reserved for blogging, email, and bills–faces the rest of the room, the windows, and the television. The antique writing desk faces the wall and is a strictly computer-free writing space–I prefer to write first drafts by hand–which helps me avoid all distractions while creating something new.

Before I bought my own place about six months ago, I’d never really had my own official and regular writing space. Moving in and out of college dorms, apartments, and my parents’ house always prevented me from both organizing a space and setting up a regular writing routine. Since I moved into my new condo, it’s been an experiment and adventure in figuring out what facilitates my most creative and productive writing process.

At first, I was struggling with having just one desk because it was the catch-all: creative writing, bills, blogging, more bills, and junk mail all piled up on the narrow surface of my antique writing desk. Knowing I’d either have to pay bills or at least organize the mess of papers before I could dive into a new short story served as a deterrent; instead of being drawn to my writing space, I actively avoided it. I didn’t get much writing done in the first few months living here.

Now, rather than haunting my writing space, all my bills are organized and put away in colorful file folders and I only have to look at them if I pull them out to sort on purpose. With two desks, I have the luxury of reserving one desk to be solely for creative writing projects. If I want to write, it’s always clear and ready for me to start, the moment inspiration strikes me. The new desk also provides more desk space so I have room to spread out multi-page projects.

Do you keep a writing routine? If so, what is your routine?

I recently started up a routine that budgets a minimum of fourteen hours of writing time a week and so far, it’s working pretty well for me. I write two to three times a week on my hour lunch break, write for three to four hours on Monday and Wednesday nights after work, and try to write at least five hours total over the weekend. To make this work–and to really get myself to stick to the schedule–I had to create a color-blocked Excel spreadsheet. Checking in with it helps me turn off the TV or put down the book I’m reading during official “writing time” and focus. I originally scheduled myself to wake up an hour earlier a few mornings a week to squeeze in some writing before work, but it ended up being a false hope. I admire those writers who can wake up at 5 AM to write for four hours before starting the rest of their day!

What’s something unique and interesting about your writing space?

The most unusual thing about my writing space is my two desks. Not only the fact that I have two desks, but the fact that they are such completely different styles. One is an antique secretary desk that my dad gave me for my seventeenth birthday. It has carved claw feet, a thousand little drawers and nooks, and even has two secret hidden compartments. It has so much character and makes me feel “dressed up” when I write. The fanciness of it helps facilitate the daydream that I’m among the ranks of great American writers, currently writing the next great American [fill in the blank].

My other desk is much more contemporary. It has a built-in filing system for organizing messes of paper, a built-in corkboard which I use for post-it to-do lists and deadline reminders, and can be folded up and into the wall. Even though I dreamed of having two desks in my writing space, I didn’t think it was going to be possible because of how small my condo is (eight hundred square feet). But then I saw this space-saving, fold-up desk featured on Apartment Therapy and ordered it right away. Pure white, its fold-up design is perfect for conserving space when I have company over.

I have one chair for both desks, a classic carved wooden chair that I’ve borrowed from my mom’s office. I wish it could swivel and roll around too, so I could switch from one desk to the other more easily, as I’m constantly swapping desks during my writing time when I finish one task and move onto a different writing project, but for now it’s just right.

If you could have any writing space in the world, what would it look like and why?

A treehouse. One summer, I helped rebuild my childhood treehouse in my parents backyard. We ripped down all the walls, which were rotting and waterlogged, leaving just the roof and the frame. For a few weeks, with construction on hold, I would climb up there to write and it felt like I was in a glass room, surrounded by the upper branches of the forest and the wildlife, and protected from the rain (the best was staying up there to write during a thunderstorm). It was incredibly peaceful and felt sort of magical. When we finally put the new walls up, it felt closed in again, contained and normal like a house, and it lost that special feeling. Someday, I’d like to have a writing treehouse like that again.

Hannah Karena Jones is an assistant editor by day and a YA, middle grade, historical, and memoir writer by night. Her writing has appeared in The Susquehanna Review and Weave Magazine, among others, and has been awarded Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest Young Adult Fiction Competition. Her book, Byberry State Hospital, is forthcoming from Arcadia Publishing. She blogs about writing and publishing at The (Writer’s) Waiting Room and tweets about everything @HannahKarena10.

Nautical Weekend

Summer in New England is my favorite.

I can’t get enough of salty ocean air, endless blue skies, and the buttery glow that settles in around dusk, when it’s still warm enough– and bright enough– to sit outside past 8pm sipping some ice tea and listening to oldies.

Growing up in the Ocean State, and married to a guy from Cape Cod, it’s no surprise my home and my personal style reflect the rustic nautical cool of New England that I love so much.

Give me sailboats and beach days, cookouts and lazy weekends spent reading in the sun, and I am happy.

This weekend we met our friend Carlye for drinks on Main Street at our favorite coffee shop & bar. She had just finished a 150 mile bike ride to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis (go Carlye!!), and we had some drinks and toasted her accomplishment.

Afterwards, Matt and I strolled downtown East Greenwich a bit, peeking into the closed shops (it was after 7pm on a Sunday), and enjoying the mild summer evening.

Matt snapped a few pictures of my ensemble, which is, as you can see, totally nautical. You don’t grow up by the ocean and let a summer pass you by without wearing some navy and white stripes (I am guilty of owning far too many navy and white striped articles of clothing, actually). And to make this classic trend entirely me, I added a huge orange purse. Perfection.

The deets (in case you’re feeling nautically inspired, too): 

Jacket, American Eagle. Tee, J. Crew (old). Skirt, Target. Purse, Target (old). Shoes, Payless (old). Bracelets, Alex & Ani. Necklace, Tiny Devotions.  Cape Cod Ring, Cape Cod Jewelers.

Changes, Baby. Changes

This blog as taken on many forms over the past year and a half. And believe it or not, I’m still not quite sure what this little corner of the internet is supposed to be.

What I can tell you is that I’m not going to write about freelance writing a whole lot anymore. Why? Because I’m not focused on freelancing anymore. I’ve joined an amazing company and I’m doing work that I really love– work that allows me to use my writing skills, my creativity, and my heart.

Interestingly enough, one of the great things about shifting away from the sometimes difficult & uncertain world of freelancing is that I feel freer to explore specific creative ventures. Weird, since I always thought freelancing would be the career that would nurture my creative side.

Instead, it actually kind of stifled me because I never quite felt like I had made it.

Now, I’m working on my fiction again. I’m reading more. I’m relaxing. But I’m also working harder than ever, and feeling the rewards from that in a way my freelance gigs never really fulfilled.

I don’t feel like I ever hit my sweet spot with freelancing. I gave it a great try, but I never rocked it to the point that I was happy and making the money I wanted to be making.

So now I’m in a different, but really positive and wonderful place.

And I think this blog needs to start reflecting that. There are so many things I love, like writing, personal style, home design, creativity (and what it means to be creative), photography, interesting places, beautiful things (as general as that is).

So, you’re welcome to stay or leave now that my blog is changing.

You can expect to still see posts about writing, of course, but I’m also going to start stretching myself. I’m going to dabble in outfit posts (budget-friendly duds for cheapskates with a love for style), as well as posts about home decor, great books, fabulous pictures, and fun, quirky finds, like neat websites and great articles or blog posts. I’ll also write about novel and short story writing (finding time, tapping into creativity, pushing past resistance), and the whole MFA debate. Is it worth the time & money? Do you really need an MFA? I have a lot of thoughts on this topic, which you’ll see down the road.

So rather than being a meandering blog about just writing, this will be a blog rich with lifestyle & writing topics. Less pressure to be writing about freelancing in a formulaic way, and more fun, more reflective of where I am in life right now.

And hopefully, a lot of fun to read as well.

To kick things off, I’ve got an outfit post coming tomorrow. The pictures aren’t great quality, and it feels kind of awkward to post photos of myself, but it’s also exciting to share my style here and talk about the things in my closet that help make me me.

So there ya have it. Welcome to this new place! Or goodbye, if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea. But I hope you’ll stay and check it out! I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Whata ya say? Want to give it a go with me?


Where Writers Write: Dave Ursillo

This week’s Where Writer’s Write post comes to us from Dave Ursillo, a fellow Rhode Island native &  writer. If you have a rockin’ writing space you’d like to share with us, email me at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com.

I love to write on a subject I call, “alternative leadership.”

Alternative leadership is at the crossroads of self-realization (beyond the stigmas of self-help, not personal development, but genuinely realizing the power and beauty and limitless capabilities we all possess) and leadership (redefining what it means to be a leader and helping people reclaim the title of leadership for themselves, in any walk of life, to genuinely help people).

My writing tends to take a very personal tone, sometimes drifts into either a very poetic/prose form or, conversely, can take up a strong edginess. It evokes a lot of emotion in readers, and often treats topics of social behavior, group interactions, and how we lead our lives.

What is your writing space like?

Simple, practical. Peaceful, zen, ohm. Whether at home or on the road, at my desk or in a coffee shop, I always seek out a writing space that is an environment that serves my writing frame of mind: giving, open, sharp, poetic, creative, valuable. 
At home, I like to keep sparse reminders within eye-shot like notes-to-self (currently notes like, “Feeling precedes, then facilitates, action.” and “Serve strengths, measure in ease, simplicity, joy.”) and inspiring books (poetry from Hafiz and Rumi, Emerson and Thoreau, works from the Dalai Lama and more), which always litter my desk. I like to have brilliant words surround me. They serve as great queues for my writing: pushing myself to up the ante and truly serve others with the words I write.
 

Do you keep writing routine? If so, what is your routine?

I keep a very strict routine of keeping no writing routine at all. Like Orwell’s 6th rule of writing, break any of your own rules when they don’t serve you. Routines make me feel boxed in, and with an art form like writing I believe that you need to go when the flow strikes. 
I try to write every day, but often there are stretches when I don’t write for a few days. I really enjoy writing when I feel it, instead of trying to “will” it. I don’t subscribe to the tortured artist routine or believe in writer’s block — writers tend to keep to many self-imposed rules, restrictions, preconceived notions about their craft which only complicates things. Just be open, clear your mind, and flow.
 

What’s something unique and interesting about your writing space?

Today my writing space is pretty make-shift and made to travel: to move, to breathe in new scenes, to experience new faces and see life being lived. That fuels my writing. I’m a nonfiction writer so experiencing people and regular, ordinary living situations serves as incredible and endless inspiration to me.
  

If you could have any writing space in the world, what would it look like and why?

Writing overlooking the water — or any scene that screams “life.” A New York City street currently screams life to me when I write these days. I love the scene of a quiet beach just as much — different views, but they all serve my writing purpose: give, give, give.
Dave Ursillo is a former politico insider turned alternative leadership writer, author and speaker. His debut nonfiction title, Lead Without Followers, is a personal tale and political analysis of what it means to be a leader in today’s desperate world. He speaks, offers 1-on-1 leadership coaching and blogs at DaveUrsillo.com.

Where Writers Write: Ollin Morales

This week’s Where Writer’s Write post comes to us from Ollin Morales, a writer with a very unique take on writing spaces. If you have a rockin’ writing space you’d like to share with us, email me at kristinoffilerwrites@gmail.com.

I started a blog about two years ago (Courage 2 Create) chronicling the process of writing my first novel. I had no idea that people would read the blog, but not only did people start reading it, they liked it. They really liked it. The blog has become so much bigger than my own private little journey and me: it’s gone on to inspire others to follow their own passions.

The blog seeks to inspire people to create the kind of artistic work they want, and create the kind of life they want. When I began, I was writing the blog for myself. My intention was to get myself to write my novel (I had been postponing it for about two years). That really was how I started.

No grand dreams. I thought that maybe, in 5-10 years I’d get someone besides my sister to read it. But other than that, I really didn’t think anything would come of it.

But, as the blog grew, I began to commit myself more and more to helping people do what I had done, because I realized that me and my readers were both on similar journeys. I realized that my personal struggles weren’t personal at all. They were universal.

What is your writing space like?

There is no better “space” to write than the space I currently inhabit. It doesn’t matter where it is.

If the” space” where I write were to matter to me, and then I wouldn’t get any writing done. I would place too many qualifiers on my writing routine that way.

 I’d say, for instance: “I can’t write today because I’m not in my favorite coffee shop, or at my home office, or its raining, or I’m tired, or I’m in a bad mood, or I’m missing my favorite red pillow that I like to sit on, etc.”

Those qualifiers are blocks–ways in which I make excuses and put off the writing.

So, the best “space” to write for me is “no space.” Which is another way to say “every space.” Or “all space.”

Basically, I know that wherever I am, I can create the perfect conditions to write. I don’t need a specific space. I can always create the ideal space to write in. (You can do this, too.)

In a way, I am the perfect space to write in.

Thus, in order to get my writing done, I try to inhabit the space of “me” at all times. That “space” is a space of openness, honesty, patience, non-attachment and being.

You might call this response “overly philosophical,” or even “cryptic,” but I call it “incredibly practical.”

No matter where you are, if you ask yourself to be open, honest, patient, and if you ask yourself to not grasp at anything and simply be yourself, then you’ll find that you’ll get a whole lot of writing done that way.

Do you keep a writing routine? If so, what is your routine?

My true writing routine is “flexibility.” That’s the best routine.

I’ve had times when I was writing 20 hours a week, times when I wrote only 4 hours a week, and times when I didn’t write a single word. I don’t ask myself to conform to my writing routine, I ask my writing routine to conform to me and my current situation. This gets rid of a lot of stress on my part. Because my work life and social life are always in constant flux–always changing–a rigid writing routine would have me in chaos pretty much every day of my life.

So, I don’t have a rigid routine. I keep it flexible.

Sometimes I’m just too busy to write, so my routine adapts accordingly.

Sometimes, I have plenty of time to write, so my routine adapts accordingly.

 I recommend creating a routine that adapts to you and your schedule. Not the other way around.

If you do this, I will promise you that you will write with greater ease and peace.

What’s something unique and interesting about your writing space?

That it’s nearly impossible to describe, and even harder to implement, but that once implemented, it creates miraculous results.

If you could have any writing space in the world, what would it look like and why?

I don’t strive for any writing space other than the one I currently inhabit. (The space of “me” that I talked about previously.) To ask for a better one would be to fall into the fatal trap of grasping and attachment. It would mean that I would have to wait for a “the ideal writing space,” and would always be dissatisfied with the writing space I currently have, because it’s not the “ideal space” I have pictured in my head.

There is no writing space that is totally perfect, anyway. A writing space will always have its shortcomings.

The writing space I currently inhabit is the only one I have at the moment. So it is the best writing space I could ever have.

Why would I want anything more?

Ollin Morales is a fiction writer, blogger, freelancer, and ghostwriter. His blog, Courage 2 Create, chronicles his journey as he writes his first fiction novel. His blog offers writing advice as well as strategies to deal with life’s tough challenges. His blog was named one of The Top Ten Blogs for Writers by WriteToDone two years in a row (2011, 2012).