Writers, Where Do You Write?

Finding time to write is undoubtedly a struggle sometimes. But what about the “where” of writing? In what kind of environments are you most productive? Do you enjoy the silent company of fellow writers or do you prefer the silent company of your pet instead? How about couch vs. desk, kitchen table vs. bed? Coffee shops, anyone? The library?

Today I had a date with my writing and a writer friend at a very cool place called Story Studio. The occasion was simple and wonderful: all writers were welcome to come in between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for a Write In. All you had to do was show up with your laptop and inspiration in tow, find a comfy spot to call your own, and WRITE.

We make appointments for doctors, meetings, social gatherings, romantic dates. We schedule vacations, dinner time, and for the dog owners out there—you know the importance of scheduling your routine around little fluffy’s bowl movements. So it makes perfect sense then the importance of making an appointment with your writing.

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t guard my writing time as well as I should. I’m too flexible and easily prone to putting it off if an occasion or commitment presents itself. But if you have an appointment to go somewhere for the purpose of writing—well, I’ve found that that can make a big difference as far as follow-through and productivity are concerned.

Home is where comfort (and the dog) is so of course I can conveniently promise myself that I’ll write on such-and-such day or when I get home or after I hang out with so-and-so or once this episode is over.

But home being where comfort is can be the problem in and of itself sometimes. Home’s comfort can quickly turn into napping or binge-watching your show (because let’s face it, the next one is already loading) or sudden inspiration for washing dishes that can effortlessly overthrow your writing goal.

They say when you’re preparing for a phone interview to dress the part even though they can’t see you. Why? Because if you’re too comfortable, it can relax your mindset too, so you won’t be as sharp and alert.

I think the same thing applies to writing. Of course I’m going to write at home 80% of the time probably. (Winter in Chicago, enough said.) And if you have an office in your home or the perfect little writing nook that you decorated with inspiration—my point still stands. Because you’ve created a designated space that you can go to for writing time. The trick is to set yourself up for success.

Because if I wake up on a beautiful weekend morning and tell myself, I’m going to write today, my chances of writing will double if I actually go somewhere for the purpose of writing. They’ll triple if I make plans to meet someone to write with. Because once I reach my location, I’m going to have to write. I’m suddenly on a concrete mission that involved putting on pants and leaving my house (and my dog). And as much as I love coffee and my own company, I probably won’t sit in the coffee shop sipping and daydreaming while my laptop is closed before me and others are writing around me.

And that’s the other thing. Other writers. Surrounding yourself with productive energy—with others who are on a similar mission—can be positively infectious. Invite a writer friend  or find a local Write In to attend.

Writing is a solitary, low-maintenance activity. I read somewhere that J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book—or a large chunk of it—on napkins. You don’t need much to write. Unlike making music, you don’t need a producer, a sound engineer, a studio, accompanying musicians, audio equipment—you don’t need anything but yourself and something to write on.

So try making an appointment with yourself to go somewhere the next time you plan to write. It can really help tackle self-discipline and procrastination. Put it on your calendar, tell your friends: sorry, I can’t; I have somewhere to be. Dress the part, pack some snacks, put your laptop in its case—you’re on a mission, after all—then show up.

Swap comfort zone for writing zone and see how much you can get done.

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The Spirit’s Strength is Infinite

My triathlon experience taught me many things last year, but the biggest lesson remains this: Persistence, dedication and hard work can take you anywhere. You just have to have the courage and will to keep going, no matter what perceived obstacles litter your path. The body may be limited in its physicality, but the spirit’s strength is infinite. Discipline is channeling that strength, and perseverance is believing in its power.

The Miracle of Mornings

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Even though waking up early can be a struggle, I’m glad I have somewhere to go to every morning. I’m glad that I’m needed, that people are expecting me, waiting for me, and happy to see me when I arrive.

Sure, I could opt to live a life of sleeping in. Of dreaming for just a little bit longer as I clutch my dog and smell her ears for just a little bit longer. I could opt to wake when I please, without urgency, and I could make showering optional (imagine the gallons of water I’d save).

But what kind of life would that be? A cyclical drudgery. An eventual restless wandering. Even larvae live with purpose.

We are creatures of habit. Some of us thrive on routine, some of us thrive on the thrill of not knowing what’s next (though really, nobody knows what’s next). But we are all creatures of habit. So I will make my new habit this:

To rise each morning purposefully and gratefully, a willing recipient to the day’s embrace, which is in no way owed to me. To recognize the miracle of mornings. The way they kiss my cheek each day, without fail, without judgement, never wanting anything in return save for gladness, as I flutter my eyes awake.

What if… I were a vegetarian?

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I’m thinking about becoming a vegetarian… possibly, maybe. I love eating chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, bison, goat, and seafood. So if I do become a vegetarian, it would be purely an act of mind over matter.

I was privileged to be raised in a household where we could afford to include these meats in our diet. And I was fortunate to have an excellent cook for a mother (from whom I draw so much of my cooking inspiration).

My mother was so good about keeping our diet balanced with plenty of vegetables, many times making veggie-only dishes for the occasional break from meat. I guess my mother was pretty fortunate too to have non-picky eaters for kids. (My brother doesn’t like onions but I’ll give him a pass…)

I’ve never questioned eating meat because… eating meat is something I’ve done all my life. I love food. How can you question something that smells and tastes so good? Besides, meat is deeply integrated in the cuisines of my heritages, so it’s a cultural experience too. Plus there are nutritional benefits.

But… now that I’ve experienced and been exposed to more of the world and lived through some pivotal years of my life, I’ve decided it’s time to reevaluate my values and ideologies on matters that I’ve always accepted as is. I think it’s good practice to reevaluate your way of life at various intervals, in an effort to live consciously. A sort of “Are you good?” “I’m good” “Okay, let’s carry on then” check-in with yourself.

The winds of life inevitably bend us, break us, or make us determined to stand our ground. So where am I determined to stand my ground? And where would I rather adapt, change, grow… based on what I know now that I may have not known before?

Deciding to become vegetarian is definitely not something I would do overnight, for a New Years resolution, or off an emotional whim. This isn’t an announcement that I’m moving in that direction (a- I’m not one for announcements and b- I have turkey chili waiting for me at home). This is merely an exercise in reflection… me sharing a topic I’ve been ruminating over recently for a number of reasons. So I welcome your thoughts… meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters alike.

More to come in an upcoming blog post.

Absence.

When there is no writing,

I find myself in the middle of a road,

as alone as one feels without a phone,

night draping my shoulders — a long,

heavy cloak dragging behind my heels.

Trees so tall they morph into darkness

bulge beside me — grand, continuous

borders blocking all muses from my mind.

A half-moon follows me, casting a grey

gaze on this place of no words, and

all I see are shadows.

 

 

 

Midnight Cigarettes

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I miss sneaking
a smoke
on my parents’ porch;
those silent moments,
anxious in bed,
waiting for family
members
to fall sleep.

I miss whispering
“good night”,
my pretend sleeping,
the soft night light,
the crack of my door,
me creeping through,
holding my breath
to listen.

My bare feet
tiptoeing on carpet,
shoes dangling in hand,
mind wrapped up in plan,
passing sleeping sounds,
to the front door locked,
loud heart pound,
the echo of the key
click.

I miss the cold
air that greets my face,
my slow motion exit, a
cigarette in a sweaty palm;
the no regret.

I miss —
inhaling, exhaling
in folds
of nighttime’s
morning,
alone but all right,
adrenaline gushing,
thoughts whooshing
and buzzing,
city lights like
fireflies,
my current life
unrealized,
staring out in wonder —
the moon’s sad face.

Review: ‘1984’ by George Orwell

Spoiler-free zone.

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Before dusting this book off my shelf, the only dystopian novels I’d read were Fahrenheit 451  by Ray Bradbury and the YA trilogy, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, both of which I’d enjoyed thoroughly. Though they’re both thought-provoking and impactful in their own ways, nothing compares to the chilling power that is 1984. 

If you’ve ever heard the terms Big Brother, Double Think, Newspeak… these were all coined from this haunting dystopian novel written in 1949.

This book wasn’t meant to be a prophecy of the then near-future, but a warning on how our world could — or would — transform if we continue on our path of destruction and lose our humanity. If the world ceases to be a place of thought and wonder and imagination, and sinks into a dark realm in which freedom is no longer a concept understood by the masses, let alone a word in the dictionary.

And it makes sense that Orwell, whose real name was Eric Blair (George Orwell was a pen name), would write such a book. Not only was he a political essayist and novelist living during a war-torn era, he despised totalitarianism, which makes 1984 then a hyperbole of government domination. The heavy, dark tone of the book was most likely a reflection of attitudes and moods after World War II.

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same — everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same — people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.” George Orwell, 1984

This is a book that creeps up on you. It starts at the micro level and widens with each chapter, before jolting you into a wave of emotion. Orwell takes his time setting up the stage, intimately introducing us to his protagonist, Winston Smith, and the world in which he… exists.

I was disturbed, yet very much intrigued, by the eerie world that Orwell gradually reveals. From the very first line it’s clear that the world of the book is unlike ours (a great thing to note for writers; crafting time and place is not always easy). The details of Orwell’s world in the year 1984 dance right out of the page.

Orwell covers the type of food and drink that’s consumed, the clothing, the living quarters, the buildings, the streets, the expressions or lack-thereof on people’s faces, people’s mannerisms and moods, the lyrics of songs that are sung, even the language that’s used, and its direct translations. Leaving barely any specifics to the imagination, his precision serves a very keen purpose.

Towards the end I felt like I had been immersed in a nightmare, and that’s exactly what 1984 sets out to portray.

The third-person narrative follows the story of middle-aged Winston Smith. We learn about Orwell’s vision of 1984 through Smith’s eyes and internal monologues. He is our guide through this unfamiliar world that ends up resembling certain aspects of our current day: the feeling of being constantly watched, monitored, and contained — the struggle between wanting to fit in and wanting to be free from that pressure. (And indeed with each year that goes by, 1984 becomes more and more relevant.)

Orwell’s precise prose make Winston’s desires our own; his fear, distrust, and desperation we come to understand as though we were born in his world. As a writer, I appreciated this accomplishment because it’s so hard to create the circumstances by which your reader can completely understand the high stakes of a world they’ve never experienced. This begs for the book to be read again as a writer.

One of my favorite aspects of 1984 is that it tackles the essence of Truth. Orwell challenges us to question what Truth is — if it’s a figment of our own making that can be altered and erased, or an eternally rooted reality. He makes you think about how society may be brainwashing you, or striving to mold you, your thoughts and ideals, in ways you were previously unaware, simply because you perceive what’s around you as the norm. You are made to question the norm and your role in perpetuating certain perceptions.

As applied to our world today, this case in Saudi Arabia where a blogger was prosecuted for speaking his mind, for speaking out against what is deemed as definitive truth in that society, came to mind. This article too made me think about some of the concepts that Orwell dissects in his book.

“It was as though some huge force were pressing down upon you — something that penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses.” George Orwell, 1984

1984 is a struggle between the individual and the larger entity that is government and society. It’s about power, oppression, and control — and the role technology can play in all of these. It challenges us to think about what makes us human, what can happen if we don’t live our lives, and rule our world, in accordance with those values. And it presents to us two important questions:

Can human beings lose their humanity to the point of no return?

Can we handle the enormous responsibility that comes from achieving great power, without shattering the moral compass?

In short, this is a book that stays with you. You begin to find traces of its allusions all around as you go about your day. It’s a book you could read over and over and discover new meanings and symbols each time… no wonder its significance has endured throughout the decades.

So if you’re in the mood for a fun, light read, I’d encourage you to look elsewhere. But if you’re interested in a psychological horror story, one that will analyze human thought, society, and behavior, that will nudge you into asking philosophical questions about man’s innate nature and the structure of our world, then this book will take you on a memorable ride. One that will inevitably tilt the lens through which you view the world, if only slightly.

Have you read 1984?

My Mother’s Yard Sale — A Poem

It’s spring on my side of the world! And the season for yard sales is here. Or is steadily approaching at least. Spring cleaning and purging is underway, and the people in my neighborhood are readying their sidewalk signs and organizing potential sale items into bins and baskets (or so I imagine). I love yard and garage sales… the treasures that can be found amidst the random rubble of years gone by. I love random. And of course, I love a bargain. As well as the feeling of reusing and re-purposing… of giving away and letting go.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve picked up from a yard sale?

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My Mother’s Yard Sale

Laid out on the lawn on folding tables, all no-longer needed items are listed at a fair price. Cotton dresses with faded polka dots hang limply on hangers; the long sleeves of blouses long gone out of style wave in the breeze, sweeping through the neatly organized memories.

Brown boxes with torn corners hold stacks of used books and bent magazines. Mother’s old toaster might be of use to someone who collects simple but respectable antiques from the fifties. Buckets filled with old but sparkling silverware sit and wait, continuously

overlooked by passing faces. Kenny Rogers cassette tapes with scratched off labels border the gray surface of the yard sale tables. Shoes once squashed in the bottom of a box in a basement finally smell the outside air, the pair’s not-as-striking color desperate

to shine one last time in the sun. Wooden picture frames that once held my family’s faces stare at eyes that don’t give them much notice. My mother sits in her folding chair, sipping tea, checking off the number of items she has left to part with. I watch her from inside

the house, through the window, wondering who would possibly want a poster of David Bowie, a poster creased with folding lines. Solid-colored t-shirts flap like flags, calling to neighbors, dog walkers, anyone interested in place mats with a few unnoticeable stains.

Finding Time to Write (and the horrible, inevitable consequence of not writing)

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Finding time to write is one of those struggles that really gets under my skin. It’s like there’s a tiny porcupine who lives in the slimy space between my skull and my brain who rolls around like a tumbleweed on the days that I’m not writing. This tiny porcupine causes me great discomfort as you can imagine, and the only way to make him stop rolling about like a menace is to sit myself down to write, because writing lulls him to sleep… and gives me relief.

When I think about what I’m so busy doing that keeps me from writing, a definitive answer never comes. Instead, my mind mulls over the generic I’m just so busy. And yet, we’re always going to be busy. There’s always going to be something that needs our attention right now. Do we revel in this energy of feeling needed? It’s hard to say. But I don’t want to be busy in the sense that I’m caught up in the rush of the weekday cycle, going through the motions of must-dos, and losing myself along the way.

“How’ve you been?”
“Good. Just busy.”
“Busy doing what?”
“Being busy.”

Something will always need our attention, be it work, family, personal hygiene, or the tedious chores of cleaning and laundry that — will never come to an end. When I analyze it in this way I recognize how easy it is to put writing on the back burner. And since not writing doesn’t offer any immediately visible dire consequences in the short-sighted view of our world, we continue to put it off. And our tetras game of priorities thus continues to blur our desire to write further and further into the background.

Not writing does not equal having no clothes to wear the next day. Not writing won’t cause ants to parade around your kitchen counter or flies to invade your garbage can. Not writing will not get you fired from your job (unless of course, writing is your job) — nor will it result in your kids going hungry or your dog peeing all over the floor. (At this very moment my dog puked on the couch, so I had to interrupt my writing just now to deal with that wonderful mess — seriously!)

So yes, it’s very easy to put off writing; there are so many excuses to choose from! Too many times have I been in bed at end of the day agonizing over another day of not having written, whispering to myself meekly and ever so hopefully, I’ll try again tomorrow. This cycle of busy is a death trap. It’s killed many would-be writers.

This is my warning to you.

And to myself.

The reason not writing doesn’t cause any immediate ramifications is because its effects are, well, not immediate. Not writing is the surest way to kill a writer… but it’s a slow, steady, crumbling death, peppered with phrases of procrastination, excuses, overwhelmed sighs, and denial.

Not writing is a poison IV drip — every drip representing a single day of not writing.

A recurring nightmare I have is a moment in which I admit to myself — from the deepest, most tucked away chambers of my heart — that I can’t truthfully call myself a writer anymore. I’m staring at my old, dusty, long-forgotten drafts and don’t recognize the words as my own, and suddenly at dinner parties I’m standing around with a wine glass in hand, and with that awkward dinner-party half-laugh, I recount to the semi-circle around me that I used to be a writer. And when I go home later, pop my heels off my feet, think about how I maybe should’ve stayed home to write instead of go to that party — I realize I don’t feel the tiny porcupine anymore. He dissolved into my brain a long time ago because of how numb I’d become to the treacherous feeling of not writing.

It’s a dark thought, I know. That’s why it’s a nightmare. But it’s a thought every writer struggling with time management should reflect on — if a writer is who you are and who you truly want to be. Are you dedicated enough? The title of Writer must be earned.

“Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have “essential” and “long overdue” meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance.” – J.K. Rowling

It’s so frustrating trying to carve out the time I need to write, like I’m trying to steal pennies from a piggy bank before somebody notices and calls my name. But the solution is truly simple. Writers write — we must write. In the same way we nourish our bodies with food and water, we must nourish the writers that we are and can fully become by making writing more of a priority in our lives.

Writing is hard; we mustn’t forget that. Not just the process of writing and what comes after, but the process of getting to the writing desk in the first place. Everything about writing is hard. And only real writers are up for the challenge — are obsessed with it. Love it regardless.

For me my solution comes down to time management. Clearly my lifestyle hasn’t been nurturing my writing routine, so I’ve begun to rise an hour earlier each day to use that extra time slot to write. Anyone who knows me will know just how much of an effort this is… I’m a night owl by nature. But I’ve decided that writing is too important to me, more important than my self-proclaimed love for the night, and that I’m willing to do anything I need to do to put writing in the forefront. Leaving it for the end of the day has kept my unfinished drafts at just that.

Because I think part of the problem is that I shouldn’t be trying to find time to write, I should be trying to make time to write. (Yes, for me at this point it’s still a matter of try, but at least I’ll be trying in the right direction.) I’ve realized I need to actively shape my schedule around writing, not just let my writing fall wherever it may.gloria-steinem

What it boils down to is priority. You make time for what’s important to you.

Being a writer may not be a choice, but the writing life — the writing life is very much a choice. It’s a choice you have to make every day, every time you sit down to it amidst the million other things that are shouting for attention as you’re typing away.

Being a writer is not about writing when it’s convenient, it’s about making sure you’re writing no matter what — because if you don’t, you’ll live out the rest of your life feeling incomplete and resentful of everything and everyone around you. And your unwritten stories will haunt you.

Not writing may not keep your life from falling apart in the immediate sense, but it sure will cause the writer in you to die a slow and untimely death.

And I don’t want to go out like that.


What strategies do you use to maintain an active and consistent writing routine? What sacrifices or adjustments have you made in the name of writing?

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Don’t Let Life Pass You By

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It’s easy to get lost in the folds of everyday. The countdown to the weekend seems to rule our lives. It’s a vicious cycle that blurs together days and weeks and months, until you forget how old you are on your birthday, and you no longer want to celebrate.

To-do lists are endless highways, as though life were a road trip, and you stay up all night just to get to where you want to be, and by day you’re too exhausted to enjoy the views. Attempts to workout or eat right or quit that habit or say the right words or commit to that perfect routine seem to follow you like a recurring daydream (or nightmare). Then you wake up one morning and realize six months have gone by (or worse — years), and you still haven’t taken the steps to accomplish all that your heart wants to do. Your passions are hanging on a hook behind your bedroom door. I’ll get to it tomorrow, you say as you make your usual exit, walk down the path of your usual routine. Because first things first: bills need to be paid, and your boss is expecting you to be somewhere on time — on their behalf.

And all the while your dog is getting older as he waits for you on the couch each day. You are getting older. The days continue to dissolve and you continue to put off calling up that friend or family member whom you haven’t seen in ages. You don’t remember what you did last weekend because every weekend looks the same, and it doesn’t matter anyway. You seem to be constantly saving for something and constantly broke. Not because you don’t have money, but because you’re worried that like time, you’ll never get back what you spend, so you tuck it away hoping something worthwhile will come along, something that will give you a good return on investment. And you’re constantly searching for that one thing that’s certain. Because better safe than sorry, right?

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I remember having what was probably my very first moment of clarity. I was sitting at the dining room table eating alone, looking across the room to the wall that held a round-faced clock. I remember staring at the second hand, focusing every thread of my being on its incessant ticking, its endless quest to move forward, to keep going. And for some reason, I remember feeling an immense sadness at the sudden, stark awareness that seconds were falling away from me. Falling away as I sat there on that table with a spoon in my hand, into a place I could never visit. It was the first time I realized that time is irretrievable.

We all have things that we want to do and things that we must do — sometimes those things align, sometimes they conflict. But no matter where those things fit in your life, I’ve learned that it’s important to prioritize what makes your heart catch fire. To do what makes you feel alive. Too many of us walk around drugged by coffee and obligations — utterly subdued into mindless routines that undo the threads of the heart by night and numb the passions of the soul by day.

Until you wake up and your skin is stale, and the pages of the novel you’d never written are sitting on your bedside table, yellowed by years of neglect. And your boss doesn’t exist in your life anymore, and you don’t remember how old you are, and it doesn’t matter anyway. Suddenly your life’s priorities involve getting to the bathroom before you let yourself go, and making your doctor’s appointments on time (they’re very busy so it’s important to be on time) because those shiny-eyed doctors with their sympathetic nods hold the answers to elongating your life (at least that’s what your mind has you believe) — though you’re unsure what you would do with your time if you did live longer. Because by that point, your best years are gone anyway (at least that’s what your mind has you believe). And dreams are for sissies anyway. Dreams are for street musicians and artist hippies and young inventors and college students who think they can change the world. Who are you to dream? Who are you?