Writers and Their Notebooks

I have at least 30 or 40 notebooks and journals filled with my writing.  They are all over the place.  This is a photo of some of the notebooks that would show up for a portrait.  Others are in boxes, shelves or drawers, or just in hiding.

If you are an avid writer, you know how fast notebooks can fill.

I’ve always struggled with the next step.  A filled notebook.  This treasure. . . where should I put it?

Put it on a shelf. . . or in a box. . . or a drawer. . .

I have been doing some reading lately in a couple of new books on writing.  One book, A Writer’s Book of Days, by Judy Reeves has shifted some thinking in my mind about organizing all these notebooks for actual productivity.

First and most importantly, a writer has to be clear on the kind of writing that the notebook contains.  It could be any of the following:

1.  Journaling

We need to clarify this term.  A journal is a noun, which defines it as a notebook, book or a log.  To journal is a verb, which is defined as to personally record occurrences, experiences, and reflections  on a regular basis.  This is writing that is for self-exploration, self expression and is probably private.  I usually do this kind of writing when I am in deep despair, wrestling with a deeper issue or problem, a catharsis of sorts.  Much of my writing is this.  I start with an issue and answers appear in my writing magically.  No one gets to see this stuff.  I really should burn these notebooks when done purging.  Therapy on a dime.

Journals can also be used as a record keeping device.  My father-in-law has kept journals for years.  He documents daily weather, visits with others, trips, and events of the day.  It amazes me how well the journals can help him remember details from his life.

2.  Morning Pages

I attempt to write every day.  I start where I am and try to fill three pages. I usually do not know where I will start or end up.  I sometimes start with how I have nothing to write about.  The muse almost always shows up and gives me a topic.  Many a day, this writing is blah, blah, blah, just to get writing flowing on a regular practice.  It also helps to diffuse the inner critic.  I don’t care what I write here.  I tell the critic to take a break.  It teaches me to not listen to this gremlin.  I write what I want and see what appears.  Any topic is meat for morning pages.  And, sometimes, morning pages ends up being journaling, although, I try to keep that in separate notebooks now.  Most of my really good ideas come from morning pages.

3.  Writing Practice

This is writing where one tries out a craft or a focused creative writing on a topic.  For me, I love to make captive a powerful sentence and then make it work in my own language with a variety of topics.  Love Love Love mentor sentences.  I think I need to start a menu item of just this.

Writing practice would also include those that like to respond to a prompt and creatively write.  Personally, these feel like fingernails against a chalkboard, but some writers flourish from these.  I’m forcing myself to try them.  All in all, it’s work on craft.

Again, a separate notebook for this.

4.  Project Writing

I typically start a journal just for the collection and writing of a single topic.  All my quotes, thoughts and new understandings about his writing project go into this notebook.  Once I determine a focus for an article, book or idea, I will dump everything to this one place.

5.  And this. . . is the biggie.  Writers notebooks entries.  Beginning writers tend to use the same notebook for everything:   journaling, project writings, writing practice, morning pages – all of it.  That’s okay, at first.  Just getting started writing is a feat in itself.  Applaud yourself if you are writing every day!

However, here is the rub, once you begin focusing on a project or a blog entry later on, and intend on revising and working on craft,  you can never find any snippet of writing that you know you wrote at some previous point in time that would have added that little pizzaz to the writing that you are craving!   I enter this dilemma constantly!

If you have over 25 something notebooks filled with random stuff, including moving quotes, phrases and words to describe a moment, scene or person, you might as well call it a night.  I’m banking that MOST writers don’t magically have this continuous flow of words that stream out of their consciousness like Hemmingway.  Real writers steal.

Seriously.

Read, notice, be astonished, save it for later use.  But tweak it to make it your own.

What to do?

I have decided that I need to have one notebook as my collect-all notebook.   I can capture conversations overheard, like today. . .

I was sitting in the clinic and listening to others sitting in the waiting room.  (I love waiting rooms for this reason.  So much writing material for free.)  This rough looking guy walks by with his jeans all ripped up like has intentions of wearing them that way.  An elderly man sitting next to me, leans over to his wife and says, “Now, what would make a person want to dress like that?” (My dad would say this.)

His wife replies softly, “I don’t know what they’re thinking.” (My mother would say this back.)

I don’t know what I will do with the conversation, but I know that I need to safe-keep it somewhere that is easy to access when I want it.

I stored that tidbit in my main writers notebook.  The “stealth” notebook as Howard Junker, editor of the literary journal ZYZZYVA, calls it.  This notebook will go everywhere with me, so I can capture all those secret bits of ideas, language and noticings and house them for safekeeping.

Later this month, I will do some re-sorting.  I’ll pull out the snatches of words from this main notebook and catagorize them into different notebooks.   I might have  notebook for these catagories:

*ideas for writing (books, articles, blog entries, etc.)

*poetry

*character development (this would include the dialogue snippets and character descriptions)

*five senses notebook organized by the senses (I would capture vivid descriptions here)

*quotes (not sure how I would organize these)

*sentence study (I love to collect cool sentences just because I love how they sound.  Then I try to replicate them using my own content and language.  Way fun. I know, I’m weird.)

I’m not sure what other categories will evolve. This will be a constant work in progress, but my hope is to be able to actually FIND some of the stuff I tuck into my notebooks. Yes, I’ll have notebooks galore, but I do anyway!  At least now, I’m a little more organized and focused on more purposeful writing

I’ll let you know how it goes.  Maybe I’m just dreaming.

So, I’m curious.  What kind of writing do you do?  What kind of notebooks do you use? I’d love to hear! 🙂

Shari 🙂

Why Aren’t I Writing? I Have Some Issues. . .

The first winter storm of the season has arrived to northern Minnesota with a welcoming sense of relief.  The blazing fires just north of us  subsided just yesterday, and the war zone-ish land along with charred buildings and trees can at least be hidden by snow, if only for a brief time, till some of the pain subsides.

School is cancelled.  Inner joy day for me.  This means I have a day to “catch up” at home.  Laundry piled high, dirty bathrooms and a good day for baking. . . but deep down in my core, I’m mostly being called to write.

I have not written on my blog for almost a month.  School started.  Whether a teacher or a literacy coach, the profession is all-consuming.  I vowed not to let this happen, yet I did.

But, today, I have to write.  I’m being given this day.

I’m going to write, I tell myself.

The house quiet, the snow falling.  My notebooks overflowing with some nuggets of gold in there, each screaming to be chosen by me to write about today.

Being given the perfect conditions for a writing day, I am still not writing.

Why, I wonder,  aren’t I writing?  What’s holding me back?

What really IS my problem???

As I ponder this, I’m recognizing the issues.  Several blockades are getting in my way.  The most prominent of these is being a highly sensitive person, not just in an emotional sense, but in all my senses.

First and foremost, a  prerequisite to all of my happiness. . . is heat.  This nosedive to 34 degrees (from 84, just 4 days ago) is a shock to my poptarts.  I gather my belongings (notebooks, books, laptop, tea)  and decide to climb into my warm bed.  I’ll do my writing here.  Getting snuggled in so that napping does not seem more pleasurable than writing is tricky here.  However, I’ve spent many a day writing in bed before, I know it can be done.  A nap later on will probably be necessary from all the hard writing I’m going to be doing.

Set up takes some time. Pillows need to be positioned appropriately.  Is the flat pillow best under my laptop, or none?  If my wrists get sore because they are up too high, I’ll get cranky and stop writing.  I debate. I pull the pillow out.

I need a softer blanket.  This one that covers myself, to keep warm, is stiff and kinda scratchy.  I get up to search for the log cabin quilt that my mother and I made.  The flannel strips, cut from work shirts of my dad’s and my husband’s bring me warmth, comfort and safeness as I cover my lap.  I smile.  K, I’m ready.

Type away, baby!

Let ‘er rip!

Tell that story!

Geez, what IS that smell?

My hyper sensitive nose is a gift, but also a curse.  It can always sense what’s been going on while I’ve been away (gun cleaning on the dining room table, fish cleaning in the kitchen) or not been done (dirty dish rag buried under mountains of dirty dishes, a toilet that needs unplugging).  But, usually, it distracts me from getting things done as when my nose knows there is an issue, it must be solved before I am able to move on to my task at hand.

I decide to get a candle from way upstairs above the garage in my studio.  Citron Basil.  I search for matches and once lit, I gently arrange a spot for it on my night stand.  (First, I am distraught by the newly piled clutter on my nightstand, so I have to clean this off.)  I grab the lavender linen spray and pump a couple of squirts over my bedding.  Both of these, a band-aid approach to the smell, I know.  But, I’m hoping it will detour my nose until my writing is done.

There, now let’s write.  I’m thinking about topic choice today and had planned on writing about the transition from fall to a sudden winter.  Let’s go with that.

It’s really blowing out there now. . . the wind is just a howlin. . .

My stomach growls.  Geez, I just ate a couple of hours ago, and I’m already hungry. This is a problem with being at home.  You can satisfy these callings quite easily with a kitchen at hand.  I climb out of bed, hike off to scrounge up some food and settle on a couple of slices of toast with some sensuous farmer’s market orange rhubarb jam.  Mmm. . . better get some more tea, too, while I’m here.  Save time.  I can’t be wasting time, you know.

I settle back into bed and am a little perturbed that this annoying scent is back.  It smells of someone who hasn’t taken a bath for quite some time.  It’s gotta be my sheets.  I get up and strip the bed.  Take all the pillow cases off the pillows (all 7 of them, yes, I sleep with 4, husband with 3, that’s another story).  I dig for new sheets and cases and make the bed so all is fresh.  Quilts back on.  Perfect.  Gotta love fresh bedding.

Now, where the heck was I?  For Pete’s Sake.  It’s already 9:30.

The front door slams out front.  My 19-year-old daughter enters from her 5:30 shift as a waitress.  She is giddy with glee because of the snow.  She allows Sandy in and they are both gallivanting throughout the house like a houseful of children at a birthday party.  After a small tornado in the kitchen, from her breakfast creations, she barrels into my bedroom to voice that she is NOT happy because the college has decided NOT to cancel classes and my school has.

“I can’t help that, hon,” I say.

“Well, it’s not fair!”

She packs up her backpack and hikes off to her politics class.

I shoo Sandy back outside.

All I can think is, “Thank the Universe for not canceling college today.”

Back to writing.  Now, you’d think I’d be giving up by now, but no.  I have all day.  I carry on.  I’m just not a quitter, you know.

It’s still quite chilly in my bedroom and my fingers begin that numbing whine of, “I can’t do this anymore until you get me some heat.”  Ughh.  I check the thermostat and notice it was turned down to 67.  67!  Now, this can only be the work of my husband who is highly conservative when it comes to heat.  I decide to crank it up.  Just for a while.

Up in my studio above the garage is also a little space heater.  I decide this is a necessary device for my bedroom this morning just to give it a little head start since the heat will take a little while to kick in.  I also change my socks.  I figured that it’s time to dig out my Smart wool.  My ankles were a little frosty.

It’s toasty now.  My fingers will be happy.  I won’t be, though, if they don’t produce something here.

I carry on, but more of the same ensues.

The front door slams again and Gracie barges back into my bedroom.

“Class was cancelled!”

“Haha.” I chuckle.

“There was a sign on the classroom door.  I don’t know why she couldn’t have emailed us!  Oh well, I’m gonna clean my room today, and Sandy’s gonna help and then I’m gonna make Pumpkin Spice cookies and decorate them with orange cream cheese frosting!”

Off she skips.

Oh my.  Expect kitchen clean up later.

And on it continues. . .

A large oak tree branch from a dead tree falls on the roof with a crash.  I have to get up and seek out the damage.  Squirrels outside my window are digging ferociously for acorns now buried under the new blanket of snow.  I watch this for a while and wonder when they will have enough stored up.  Music is now blaring from Gracie’s room.

I really need to get some decent writing done.

My fingers are just weeping at what is coming out.

Maybe it will quiet down around here later on.

Maybe I should do laundry.

Then. . . the power goes out.

I take a nap.  It’s a good day for a nap.

Maybe I’m not supposed to write today.

Ann Cameron calls this procrastination.  Steven Pressfield says it’s resistance.  Nancy Slonim Aronic:  lack of discipline.  I say it’s all of the above, with a touch of ADD.

All I know is that I had most of my day to write, and I didn’t write much.

Well, I did write this post.  I guess that’s something.

Again, my fingers weep at what comes out.

5 Powerful Reasons You Need Morning Pages in Your Life

Morning Pages image

I have done morning pages most of my life, way before Julie Cameron wrote about them in her book The Artist’s Way back in 1992.  When I first read The Artist’s Way for the first time in 2006, I smiled.  What I was doing now had a  name.

I have at least 50 notebooks filled with writing.  Probably more.  They are everywhere. Somedays I write 10-15 pages, others my mandatory 3.  Whatever it may be, I have to write.

I stopped doing morning pages when I started my blogs. 

Why?  How can someone who has done something for a life time stop doing something that is so engrained in their being?  What could possibly cause this?

I started using my blog AS my morning pages.  

Instead of going to the notebook and pen in the mornings, I was now going to my computer attempting to compose a writing for an audience.  I fretted over the frustration of topic choice, choosing a catchy title, crafting that first lead sentence that hooks and then always trying to keep a focus and stick to some pain points.

A  blog has a distinct structure that you try to attain.  This is not morning pages.  I was at a creative standstill.  A block.  Some days I just sat at my computer and pondered.

I didn’t write.  I wasn’t writing.

Julie Cameron’s book Walking in This World arrived on by doorstep yesterday.  As I leafed through the first pages, she reviews the “Basic Tools” for any creative soul.  Morning pages were right there, on the page, as the first, most powerful tool.

I love it when you know something so deep in your core and your veer from it for some reason or another and then, all of a sudden, the Universe sends you a little reminder that you need to remember to do what you know.  Gives me chills.

So, I’m back to my morning pages again. 🙂

Why are morning pages so powerful, you ask?

Well, I’ll give you 5 really big reasons.

1.  There is no wrong way to do morning pages.

Morning pages are at least 3 pages of long hand writing (no computer) in a notebook that is free-flowing stream of conscious writing.  They are not meant to be art or even any good.  Not that they might be.  They could.  They are only meant for your eyes.  No audience.

2.  The drama gets put on the page.

Julie Cameron says, “All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down in your morning pages is the stuff that stands between you and your creativity.”

It might be worry over bills.  It might be anger at your husband.  It might be you beating yourself up because you drank too much last night.

Whatever this is, it’s drama.  If you get it on paper, it’s leaked out of you.  You did something with it.  So, you can move on.

If I can get my drama on the page, I have less drama in my life.  My head is clearer and I can focus my thinking on the things I want to focus on.

3.  Morning pages teach us to get beyond our critic in our heads.

Because there is no wrong way to do the morning pages and we can write whatever we feel and not care what it says or how it looks, we have the right to ignore the critic in our brain telling us that our writing (or anything else for that matter) is crap.

“We have a logic brain.  This is our Censor that gives us our second, third and fourth thoughts whenever faced with our own original thoughts,”  writes Julia.  Quite often, it spits at us words like, “You can’t write that!” or “Who are you kidding?”

And we have our artist brain.  This artist brain is our creative being.  It has glorious thoughts of “what-if’s” and sees a beautiful leaf and thinks, “I’m going to press leaves and string a bunch of them together to make a leaf garland and hang it above my kitchen window!”  Artist brain is random, free and idealistic.

Julie proclaims that “morning pages teach logic brain to stand aside and let artist brain play.”  Why is this important?  I don’t know about you, but my logic brain is dominant in my brain 24/7.  I know I need to train it better.

4.  Morning pages are a form of meditation.

If we write enough so that it feels like breathing, we begin to see new insights in our writing.  We see the same issues, read over the continued whining and we realize that we need to make changes.

In my own life, the answers to my questions magically appear in my writing.  Many times I have stopped in my own tracks and looked at what came out and cried.  God speaks to us through our writing.

We meditate to discover who we are.  To listen to the whispers from God.  Writing is a form of meditation and the great power in it, more so than meditating without writing, is that the writing that ends up on page helps us to map our pathways.

It is almost impossible to write your morning pages morning after morning without feeling a divine unexpected inner guidance.

I consider it a gift.

5.  Morning pages are not just for writers.

Morning pages are for everyone.  If you know how to hold a pencil and scribble some letters, you can do morning pages.  We all have inner work to do.  Every soul is searching for something.  We all are praying for answers.

Everyone can find them in our pages.

If you haven’t written for a while, go buy a cheap composition notebook and find your favorite pen.  Set your alarm for a half hour to an hour early and start your pages.

Write anything. Write about how you don’t know what to write.

Just get it on the page.

Shari 🙂

Disappearing to Lose My “Self”

I dropped from the face of the earth for awhile.  I was blessed enough to stay at a primitive, secluded cabin on a remote pond in northern Minnesota for two entire weeks this past month.

This was not a family vacation.

It was time for me.  Selfish.  Maybe.  I was tired of putting myself at the bottom of my priority list.  I had the opportunity so I flung myself at it.

During this time, I filled an entire 246 pages of paper with words.  Every day, I wrote, I read, I wept, I snapped pictures, I observed, I sketched, I was still, I listened, I wept,  I prayed, I meditated, I sang, I danced, I swam, I walked, I napped, and I just sat and pondered.

Did I mention that I wept?  More than once.  I brought myself to places I had not been able to get myself to in years.  I came to this cabin as one person. . . and left another.

This morning, I am looking through my notebook of these writings and it’s all flooding back.  Tears flood as well.  The magic of words.  They carry so much weight.  So much self discovery, so much learning, so many lessons.

I have to write about it here.    I have to share them, each page of words. . . a gift to me.  They touch me deeply.  I can’t leave these angel messages closed in this notebook and move on to other present moment experiences and thoughts.  I come to my desk every  morning and see that black leather bound journal with the broken spine and 246 pages full with stickies poking out of it sitting there on my pile of notebooks and it keeps pawing at me.  Like a puppy in church.

Today will be a day for reliving those words in my mind.  Feeling them again.

Monday will begin my story of Arrival Day At the Cabin and the person that was.

Shari 🙂

She Loves to Run. . . That Sandy

A weird thing happened today.  After reading Jeff Goins post on writing about topics that we fear to deeply touch readers enough to shatter their frozen seas, I spent most of my morning looking for the perfect frozen sea breaking topic.  I’ve got gazillions of topics of what I’d like to write about, but I’m bent on finding this perfect one.

I decided to take a  break and go throw some balls for Sandy to fetch.

Our lab, Sandy, is insanely  fast.  I’m not bragging either.  Seriously, why would I brag about something like this?  When you throw her a stick, or a ball or a frisbee, she actually leaves “dog divots”  when she takes off to fetch it.  Yup, divots of grass and dirt right up into your lap.

When Sandy treks over to the neighbors (when we aren’t around and she hears voices over there because she’s such a people dog), our neighbor, Linda, likes to throw things for her and their two labs to race to.  Linda confesses that she often has to fake Sandy out first and give the other dogs a head start to give them a chance.

Sandy still wins.

She is unbeatable in dog running.

“We should enter her in races!” my kids say.

She has this gift, this uncanny freakish speed talent. . . and nothing to do with it but chase balls and hunt in the fall.

Here’s the crazy thing.  I really don’t think she gives a rip if she’s fast or not.  She just loves to run.  She doesn’t care if she’s winning contests or competing with any other dog.  She is just so dang happy to be running.

And then. . . my message sang to me.

Like writing should be, Shari.

I was the frozen sea today.  Stuck in finding perfect writing instead of just writing.

Julia Cameron writes,

“I love when good writing comes out – but mostly, I just love writing.”

And we shouldn’t do it for fame or be “be published” or to get lots of followers or likes. We should do it because it’s like breathing.  It’s being true to our essence and it’s who we are.

Like Sandy has to run.

Shari 🙂

Finding a Focus

Image

I’m following Jeff Goins in his Intentional Blogging Series.  We are on Lesson 2, which is finding a focus for your writing.

This has always been my problem.  I love too many things and I don’t want to leave anything out!  Even looking at my heading that I have for this blog is daunting.  I wanted this blog to be everything in my life that does not include teaching (that’s on my other blog).

So, hmmmm. . . he advises us to first, choose a subject, second, a theme within this subject and finally, an objective for our writing.  What will our purpose be?

After much pondering, I’ve narrowed my subject down to. . . creativity.  That encompasses a lot.

Now themes.  These are the categories of creativity.  Let’s see, there’s art journaling, painting, cooking, writing, fear, intuition, presence, soul work, photography, books.  How can I choose just one?  Maybe I need to use the process of elimination here.  Or maybe I focus on how creativity feeds your soul.  Could that be a theme? Ughh.  It could be like a creativity manifestation.  Somehow, I need to incorporate intuitiveness in there.  And, being fearless!  Since that’s my biggest issue!!!! I’ll cross off photography, too, since all I have is my iphone and I don’t know how to use my expensive camera very well.  I could take a class.   But, if I became good at that, I’d need another blog.

Okay, so my theme is going to be fearless creativity.

Now, what is my objective?

My objective is to share my creative words and art (along with my thoughts and feelings about it all) with others in hopes to connect to like souls and inspire them to write and share their creative gifts.

Ta-da!  Will that work?

I’ll email it to Jeff Goins and see what he says.  Maybe I’m just beating around the bush.

What do you think?

Shari

My True Calling

I’m almost 47 years old.  47.  You’d think I would have figured out who I am and what my calling is by now.  I mean, really, I’m on the downhill slide to 50.  To my children, and their friends, this is old.

I mean, I know what I like…favorite foods, movies and stuff like that.  Stuff… I know… that’s a lazy word in the writing world, but it describes what I mean here… meaning, you know:  everything else. Forgive me, you literary critics out there.

The truth is, I’m just learning, now, over this period of the last 3 to 4 years, what it means to be me, and how to be true to myself and how, if I don’t work at living it out, with discipline, my soul is going to continue to ache.  As it has been for many years.

Here’s the gist.  I’m a wife (married to my high school sweetheart), mother (four wonderful children – ages 23-17), sister to 4 siblings to a nurturing mother and father. I can’t complain about finances and my possessions.  I have a good job, though stressful at times, as a literacy coach.  Overall, I’m comfortable.  90 percent of the people in this world are praying for the life I have.

So, why this ache?

That’s the rub.   Cravings.  My soul craves so much.  It feels so much.  I’m one of those “highly sensitive persons” as Elaine N.. Aron describes in her book.  I have just now discovered this.  All these years, thinking something was wrong with me.  But that’s not all.

I crave to create.  It feeds my soul.  When I can’t, I’m unbearable. My creations through writing and art transform my feelings and emotions into something concrete. A channel of life through me onto the page.   If I can’t do this, I seem to create this drama in my life.  Ughh.  I feel too much more.  Things hurt more.

I’ve sought out much guidance over the last few years in order to steer the sails.  Through books, therapists, workshops from amazing people, my journey through my own creations of writing, art journaling and photography, along with reflections through personal experiences, I am amazed at how much I continue to learn about this plan the Universe has for me.

And, I need to share it.  Because it’s so daunting. So awesome.  Just awesome.

Again, another writing lazy word. . . but, it just fits.  What other word replaces awesome?

Shari Lynn 🙂