Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

How To Get Unstuck When Writing

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

It’s really a terrible feeling. Having a hypothetically great end goal for your writing in mind but having no idea how to get there. There’s a name for this. It’s called writer’s block. But I call it agony because until I can get to my “there,” I can’t really rest, or at least not very comfortably.

Writer’s block happens to all writers, but it’s not every writer that knows that there are ways around it. There are tricks of the trade, or things you can do when the words aren’t coming and you’ve got deadline, lofty goals, or just a desire to be done. Here are five of the things I do when I feel stuck when writing to get unstuck.

writers block tips

 

Call a friend.

“Does it have to be a writer friend?” you ask. Not at all. Sometimes, as writers, getting “stuck” has to do with our inability to take ourselves out of our brains and think, and, thus, speak clearly, Normal language. No jargon. So when stuck, call a friend, a supportive and thinking friend or family member and talk about what you’re writing. Then allow the conversation about your topic to just happen. You’ll be amazed how easy and effective this small activity is to get going again with your writing.

Stop writing.

If you can, of course. I mean, assuming there are no academic or professional deadlines deathly looming over your head, take a break. Yes, of course, in order to get better at writing you should write everyday. But no one said what you have to write every single day. So if your novel is feeling stuck, stop. Do yoga. Go for a walk. Read good writing. Take a vacation. Make that phone call (see number 1). And then, and even if you don’t feel like it, come back. Sit down and start writing, again. Something good will happen. I promise.

Write nonsense.

I was a really good thinker in grad school but my writing wasn’t that great. I never knew why until I took a professional job as a technical writer and learned that overthinking long, arduous sentences that sound good, rather than make sense, doesn’t really fly…well, anywhere. My writing process would always take a lot of time because I would wed myself to ideas and the way a sentence sounded that I refused to change. I’ve learned since then that my old habits only invited writer’s block. You can’t be a perfect writer. But you can do your best. And if you haven’t gotten to your best, in the draft phase, keep writing crap. Write and don’t judge. Don’t edit (yet). Just write everything that’s in your head and ignore the voice that keeps telling you “this makes no sense!” “Of course,” you must tell that voice, “it doesn’t make sense! It’s not supposed to!” You are your only reader at this point, so, really, “who cares?” Who knows, maybe in saying everything, you’ll find that one thing that you were trying to find six pages ago. Maybe.

Change your goals.

Writing is a process of discovery, right? You don’t usually know where you’ll end up until you start going, right? Right! I believe in authenticity. And I believe when we can be the most authentic versions of ourselves, we can produce our best writings, fiction and non-fiction. So…your goals. If you don’t really know why you’re writing, it’s really hard to keep writing. Making lots of money is an often a goal inherent in many professional writer’s aspirations. But, from experience, that’s not really a goal. Money can’t get you unstuck. But your passion and an authentic desire to say something that you feel is worthwhile can. So when stuck, decide, again, why you’re writing and if necessary change (or fine tune) your goals and, possibly, your topic. It’s really okay.

Get help.

Writing is a solitary activity, but it’s okay to wave your white flag and ask for help with your sentences, with what your writing is triggering in you psychologically, with editing. It’s okay. You are still a writer. A darn good writer.

How do you go from stuck to unstuck when writing? Share your best tricks in the comments below.

Steak and Potatoes | Writing Does That For Me

Friday, August 14th, 2015

in your heart

Every time that I write here these days, I feel like I am saying the same things. “I’m sorry.” “Will write more soon.” “It’s just that life is so hard, so demanding at times.”

But this is not always true.

“I’m back…for now…maybe.”

But this isn’t always true either.

This is what I hear in my head when I write here. But maybe I don’t say these things at all. It’s just that every time I come to write here, I feel these things. Every day, I feel these things about this blog and about writing here.

For five years, blogging has been like my other digital plant, the one I over-watered in the beginning, under-watered in the middle, and outright neglected and loved and neglected again in the end, or not the end but right now. Every day, this plant (since my blog is always metaphorical in my head) needs more watering. It needs to bear some fruit. The soil feels dry and the leaves are browning. But before they brown, I write something unplanned, usually like this. Or when I don’t write, I usually do something visual. I change a header. I change a font. I change something to make it easier to not feel guilty about what I am or am not doing with this plant that could grow but won’t grow because I don’t water or love on it nearly enough. But I still do water it some, love it some, still after all these years.

I once had a friend at my first professional job who took lunch breaks with me every day. We were just out of college and ambitious and overly confident in who we thought we were back then. So these lunches were always so serious, long (usually over two hours), and memorable. One lunch break, we were walking down 7th street in DC and talking about how people in our generation should learn to stick to things. “Yeah, exactly, if like they just committed to a job instead of looking for a new one every five seconds, they’d grow.” And “Yeah, exactly! Can you imagine what would happen if we changed…if people in our generation just paused and learned to enjoy and grow where they are right now?”

We both left that job five months later. Onward and upward.

The older I get, the more children I have, the more I try to make it a point, however, to do what I once said people like me should do more of.

I sit still. I focus on growing in one thing before moving on to my next thing. Motherhood is my thing that I’m sitting in right now. It’s a chair that demands so much that I’ve learned so much in sitting there, or here. I’ve learned to sit in all things, especially in my writings.

I used to be in such a rush to publish, publish, publish. Faster, faster, faster. Now, I take my time. I start an essay or article and unless I have a really good reason to leave, I stay there. I keep writing until I’m done.  Getting “done” is always hard for me because 9.8 times out of 10 , I have no idea what I think until I really start writing. Or usually I think I do know what I think. And then I’ll start writing and realize how much of what I think I think is usually not what I really think at all.

I think we all have these things in our head about why we do the things we do, why we think what we think.  We all tell ourselves different variations of our truths not because we mean to but because it’s far more easier to do so.

It’s far more easy to reflexively say when asked “I know who I am! I know what I believe!” It’s far more difficult not to do these things.

It’s far more difficult to come to terms with the idea that usually we don’t know why we do the things we do. Usually we don’t know what we believe until we really confront what we believe, learn to be critical of it, and then come to terms with what really remains after that. This kind of work is hard. This work comes with age. This work takes time.

But it’s worthwhile.

It’s worthwhile to be critical of yourself, to practice being a spectator of your thoughts and ideas and decide that rather than being “right” in your head, you just want to be close to “the truth,” or what really resonates in your heart.

Writing isn’t spiritual, or it isn’t intentionally that way for me. But sometimes I get there, or to my truths, through writing.

When writing, to get there, this is what I do: I write until I read what I’ve written and can breathe new air. That’s when I know I’m done.

And when I’m done, it’s like I’ve finished a meal of steak and potatoes. I don’t eat steak and potatoes. I mean, I have eaten a steak. And I have eaten potatoes. But never together in one meal have I eaten steak and potatoes. But when Americans talk about steak and potatoes they talk about getting full, feeling satisfied, wanting nothing more. I think. Right? Yes, for the sake of this post let’s assume that steak and potatoes does that for Americans. Well, when I write I get to the place when I’m really, really, really finished. But I don’t feel bloated in the way I imagine red meat and starch would do, so maybe that metaphor isn’t apt . When I really write what’s within, I feel most human, most myself.

Once I’m there, then I can use brain energy on new things.

I was stuck in an essay last week (or really for the past months). But I’m close to getting “there” with it.  I can smell the new air. And this is why I am writing this today.

So, until next time.

sand

Love, Jessica ♥

 

What It Means To Be A Sister

Thursday, April 9th, 2015
My three daughters are in their closet desperately searching for my middle daughter’s favorite dress—the oversized pink satin one with glitter and sheer sleeves.

“We’re going to pretend ball,” squeals my oldest as she runs past me. Though none of them really understand time, they tell me it’s starting in an hour.“Oh, oh, oh. We have to find your perfect dress!”

They don’t have any luck in the closet, but they do in the dryer. Still in the laundry room, all three girls huddle in a circle to help get their sister dressed. “We must hurry!” says my oldest, helping her sister’s arms into the unforgiving sleeves. “The ball, the ball is starting soon!”

Once she’s in her dress, they stay in their huddle. Now in silence, they admire each other with slow nods and winks.

I welcome this kind of play because it doesn’t always happen. Just two hours ago, they were fighting over breakfast. Competing for the pink spoon with hearts on the handle, the princess cup that had only the illusion of more milk, the chair that wobbles, my attention.

With my daughters who are 5, 3, and 1, there’s a pecking order. Fights over territory usually happen between the daughters who are closest in age. I read once in a magazine that the reason for this is simple. Like in the wild, they’re competing for the same resources they think they need to survive.

“I don’t like my sister!” This is what my oldest screamed at me after breakfast. “She won’t let me read my book in the corner, and…she’s so yucky!” she said, staring in her 3-year old sister’s direction. Then, for what felt like an eternity, they bounced back and forth with “No, you’re yucky!” “No, you are!” “No, you!”

You can read the rest of the essay here on The Washington Post.

 

sister quote

Tell The Untold Story Inside You

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

maya quote

Every so often, I am asked how I decide what to “share” online, in my writings. Usually, the person asking this asks this because they have things they’d like to write about, talk about online. But they don’t write or talk about these things online or anywhere public out of fear over people knowing too much about their “personal” lives, their personal “selves.

“But I don’t share everything,” I often tell them.

Sometimes when I’m going through something in my life, I don’t write about. I just live it. And if there’s a story worth sharing, a story that needs to be shared, I’ll share it.

But sometimes I don’t write about some things. Things that may negatively impact others in my life? I don’t write those things. Things that I am not certain how I feel, things that I have feelings about but feelings that I know are premature? I don’t write those things. Things that may hurt someone or things that I know are written from a wrong place or with poorly conceived intentions. I don’t write those things.

But I do tell lots of stories in my writings, stories mostly about me because I think speaking out loud, writing things down is how I feel most real to myself. I think so much of our world is fake: fake food, fake hair, fake butts, fake smiles, everything can be faked but the truth.

So when I write, when I live I hope to “be” from that place. I hope, often, when I write things that feel uncomfortable or that hurt, that in living from a real place, others will come out from wherever they are and live there with me if not for forever then just for some moments. This doesn’t always happen. But it’s my hope to make human connections that mean something because at the end of the day, in spite of all that may be fake amongst us, we are still real. I hope we may never forget that.

Forget Yesterday. Wear What Feels Good Today.

Friday, February 13th, 2015

 

forget yesterday

Forget yesterday. It has already forgotten you. Don’t sweat tomorrow. You haven’t even met. Instead, open your eyes, and your heart to a truly precious gift; today.

I have been meaning to write here more often about how I writing more often. But I have not found the time to say these words. Or I have found the time, but so often I’ve been filling my time with ‘something’ else.

I’ve been filling it with new books.

Anna Quindlen is currently my cup of tea, so I’ve been drinking her slowly every afternoon while my children sleep.

I’ve been filling it with writing essays.

Essays are my new best friend, so we’ve been sharing deep secrets in any moments in between.

I’ve been filling it with exercising.

Barre workouts are my life line, so I do them often to remind my body to feel alive.

Then there’s this blog. This two-year old blog.

‘Where does it fit into all this?’ sometimes I wonder. If my life is a closet, this blog is currently on the floor.

The hangers are all occupied with other fabrics. ‘Is it time to throw you out?” I ask when I’ve picked it up from the floor and studied it more closely to see it’s worth to my today.

But then I’ll think of the history, of all the places it’s been worn, of all the potential for what it could be if only I got rid of something else, made room somewhere else, paired it with something else. Something new and bright, that would give it new life in my today.

Alas, I always keep it. I pick it off the floor. Remove any lint that may have gathered and wear it like it’s the first time I’ve worn it before. ‘It looks good on you’ some will say in seeing me. And ‘you really should wear that more often!’ I agree and in doing so I remember why I still hold on. I hold on because every time I wear it, it looks so good on me. It feels so good on me.

So when I’m done with using it, I delicately fold it into a square. There’s no room on a hanger, but there is on the shelf. I place it on a shelf and smile about keeping it for so long.