Ten Ways to Grow Your Writing

Someone told me to check out this blog from a painter stating ways to grow yourself as an artist.  (https//chrisgallego.wordpress.com/2017/11/25/5-unusual-habits-to-keep-you-growing-artistically/). I decided much of this applied to writers as well but I added a few of my own thoughts and came up with ten ways to grow your writing, remembering that there is no way to separate the writer from the writing. If the writer grows, the writing can also grow.

1. Write Crap

Yes, give yourself permission to write crap. There is a reverse psychology in effect here. The freedom to not write well tends to give you permission to try things, to go on creative impulse versus trying for perfection. And as Annie Lamott observed everyone writes shitty first drafts. It is natural for any artist in any field to produce a body of work. Some or even a lot of it will be crap so that some or even a lot if it will be good and some may even be great, but keep writing. Also, I make my students do an exercise to consciously try to write badly.  Three things usually happen when they do this. They use clichés and repetition, and go so far over the top with it that it becomes good. They notice that it is not easy for them to write poorly and thus, prove to themselves that they are better than they thought at writing well. They produce a great piece of comedy.

2. Get in Over Your Head

If you feel you are over your head and in a mess with your writing project, you might be exactly where you need to be. Taking risks is brave and will make you grow. You do want to challenge yourself. You can’t do that without feeling over your head. You need to go through it. 99% of what you do as a writer is process not product. It is a messy process and often an overwhelming process if you are truly challenging yourself. It is also a temporal art. Unlike the painter we cannot see the current whole in one view, we have to read and reread, write and rewrite. Wholeness is difficult to grasp, so being over your head is allowing the process to be what it is, a process before it is “declared” a product.

3. Read Bad Writing as well as Good

Reading bad writing reminds you what makes writing good. You will notice more about things to both avoid and include in your own work when you read bad writing, more so than when you are perhaps overawed by good writers. A good writer can freeze you into feeling too small and imperfect. This is ego and in your head. But also, when you are judging bad writing as bad, test how much is your judgement, notice where there is craft even in what you considered bad writing. Notice that you may have the notes to make something better. If it is really bad, give yourself permission to not finish it but be forever grateful of the experience, and then used that saved time to work on your own writing, gratefully.1medium_writingadvice_writerswrite

4. Get Lazy

Writing can be work, hard work, but it needs to be half play too.  If it isn’t we burn out.  The muse likes your effort but if it is all effort and no play then the muse can get turned off too. Sometimes you need to walk away and get lazy.  Don’t, for god’s sake, tell yourself you are having writer’s block. If you have been trying and it is not coming together that’s not writer’s block that’s pushing too hard. Take a walk. Consider those wonderful “Ah ha” moments, they happen at some other moment when you are laughing with friends, or generally goofing off.

5. Rearrange Your Writing Space

Have you put any effort into your private writing space?  We cook in the kitchen. We sleep in the bedroom. We take care of our bathing and toiletries in that room. Do you have a writing space? Do you like it? Do you give yourself nice things to look at? Does it have light and a window? Writers need light as much as painters. Do you have some words that inspire posted in your writing place? Words that remind you of who you are? For years I had a question, “Do words change reality?” and a cartoon with a character that said, “If you want to say something smart, think of something really dumb and write the opposite.”  I hope one day in the future to have the courage to take my desk and plunk it down in the best spot in the apartment or house and I won’t care if it is the living room or dining room or in an alcove at the top of the stairs.

6. Write in Other Places

After number five, this may seem like a contradiction, but you sometimes need to write away from your special designated spot and sometimes you have to. Writing in other places can mean other cities, other situations, maybe with someone else sitting writing across from you. Or, yes, it can mean in your local cafe or the cafe across town, or the cafe you always dreamed of writing at in Paris. Does it change your writing? Are you more inspired or less? I like writing retreats. I have been trying to figure out why I like writing in Mexico for years and I have lots of answers and none of them need to be real, I just need to know that it is a good place for me, but not the only place either. You should be able to write everywhere, so prove it already.

7. Go to Beginner Writing Classes

There is a famous, talented actor I know that went repeatedly to beginning acting classes long after his success, because the basics of any craft need to be renewed. Once they are ingrained it gives you a lot more freedom and ability to write without fretting. But, believe it or not, we forget things. So, don’t take the attitude of thinking there is nothing more you can learn or relearn. It is okay to learn again, and for some of us it is fun to share in a group. We are so often distant in time from our readers, that it is nice to share immediately, hot off the press in a writing class.

8. Don’t Write Everyday

1_500I know lots of people say, write everyday. But, I bet even those people don’t. What they mean is have a writing discipline. Plan your writing days and your days off. When a project is getting to the wire, the deadline is nigh, or just when you are on a hot streak, you may well find yourself writing everyday to get it done. But not everyday, all the time. Know that this is true so that you don’t feel obsessively stupid, or not a writer when you are not writing. Remember you will have a process and a writing discipline. You can churn it out when you want to and need to.

9. List All Your Own Deepest, Darkest Fears

Especially when you are uninspired, go to your most vulnerable place. The places you don’t want to show the world. Peter Shaffer did not write Amadeus from the point of view of Mozart himself, but from his contemporary Salieri who was a mediocre composer. Shaffer said he did this because that was his deepest, darkest fear that he would just be a mediocre writer. Make a list of your own deepest darkest fears, about your writing, about your life, about anything and everything that makes you feel naked and vulnerable. Have you written anything about these yet?

10. Write Faster

I myself have come full circle, from writing fast so it was both practical and not fully finished, to slowing down and getting hung up on the details, to realizing that career writers need to write fast and edit (with help) later. Learning to write fast can be your best friend and it means you are not letting the perfectionist in you take the wheel but some other right brain gremlin that knows how to fly.  You can learn how to write fast and well, but only if you let yourself write fast.

My final note is from the original blog post that I referenced: “Quit killing yourself trying to become a great painter and work relentlessly on becoming a badass editor” After you have written fast, you and your editor can have fun polishing BUT I think what Chris Gallego means is that you learn, to begin with, not to put everything and the kitchen sink in your work, you will streamline and that should be the goal to make your writing process efficient.  If you focus on that, good will come, but you also need to focus on continually growing.

Let me know which ones serve you and how it goes.

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Blog for Blog’s Sake or The 99% Decade

I haven’t blogged here since last year. I have two unfinished  blog ideas in my drafts folder that no longer inspire me. My blogger friend Lorraine (aka Raincoaster) would be ashamed of me. Every three days to a week is more her schedule. At very least every three weeks. But what is up with me?

potential mock-up cover for my new book

On the weekend I was at a party and the weird subject of disposing of a cremated loved ones ashes came up -only at a good party can such subjects come up- and I told the whole hilarious and profound story of disposing of my mother’s ashes that had everyone engaged. I realized I could not have done that if I had not written a blog post about it a number of years ago called, The Mystery of Mom. That’s when it hit me that I had not blogged for a very long time. I went from about once a month to every three months to every six months and now once a year.

On the upside I have a new book I have finished a first draft of, The Happy Hammock (I am still seeking beta readers if you are interested in reading the first draft – please contact me). However, some of the chapters of the book-which is about our misadventures and wacky community in our small Mexican town-are taken from some of my blogs, albeit expanded and sweetened. So how could I stop doing this important exercise? On the one hand, I am still writing, perhaps more than ever, but on the other hand I am not sharing enough. My last blog statistics were horrendous. This is not good for my marketing efforts which let’s face it are more haphazard than I care to admit.

As a writing teacher/coach my students have heard me said that after teaching writing for about ten years I figured out that I wasn’t really teaching people to write. Sure I gave them the technical tools in story structure and dialogue and all of that, but what I figured out I was really doing was empowering them to share their writing. That is the scary part. That is the part that holds people back. So, my friends, under that wisdom I can’t argue with because it is my own, I say today I am blogging for blog’s sake. I am not even doing it on a separate Word doc first. I am putting it direct into WordPress as I think it. I am live.

to-blog-or-not-to-blog

I know I am not all that crazy and carefree an artist however because I noticed that I am hitting the “save draft” button fairly regularly. The point is I haven’t been inspired to blog (remember the two unfinished draft ideas) but I am doing it anyway. Hoping something good will come of this pondering.

Pondering is great for the ponderer but can be boring to read, you maybe have to switch it up. So here goes. A scene between two writers talking:

A: “Do you remember that part in the book Eat, Pray, Love, where she and her Italian friends are figuring out the one word that sums up each city? Rome is sex, Naples is fight, Stockholm is conform…”

B: “Sure. That’s a great part.”

A: “What do you think our city’s word is?”

B: “Hmm. I have a feeling you already know, so are you going to tell me?”

A: “Well I am torn. The first idea is technically two words and it is Real Estate.”

B: “Yeah, our city is obsessed with that.”

A: “Even I’m obsessed with that.”

B: “What’s the other word?”emily_-carr-in-studio

A: “Airbnb”

They start laughing.

B: “Yup, that’s about it these days.”

A: “I am coining this The 99% Decade – where most of us are battling depression, trying not to think about Donald Trump and are madly trying to make ends meet. We are not the 1% and we don’t know any other way to fight it than Airbnb.”

B: “But this is everywhere, not just our city.”

A:”True. And for writers and artists and women it has always been thus.”

B: “What do you mean?”

A: “I keep thinking of Emily Carr who took in boarders to make ends meet so she could keep painting. She had a little studio in her house and hung chairs and various things up on the rafters with ropes and pulleys to bring them down when she needed so she could have enough room for her canvases.”

B: “You mean there have always been people struggling and we have always been pragmatists.”

A: “I guess so.”

B: “And there have always been the very rich too.” She pauses. “So what’s the outcome of this?”

A: “I guess, just keep blogging, painting, dancing, doing whatever you do however best you can. And if you need to airbnb, you airbnb.”

B: “Right.”

A comfortable silence is broken.

B: “Should we just accept the 99%dom then?”

A: “I don’t think anyone wants to emulate the 1%, do they? What does it say about you if you want to be mega rich? That you are selfish? We should hang on to our values when we struggle and be proud, 99% proud. They are 1% rich but they can be 99% as miserable as anyone else.” Another pause. “One thing I know for sure is no one is friends with us for our money.”

They laugh again.

B: “You are an optimist.”

A: “No, I just create characters who are optimists.”

B: “Still, it’s a good thing you blogged today.”

And so ends my blog for blog’s sake with a neat little snapshot of this corner of history right now. Maybe it is good I blogged today.

075a0286Kathrin Lake helps writers write all over North America but particularly in Mexico where she holds writing retreats every January.

Contact at kathrinlake4@gmail.com

My Secret Passion is …the Movies

I have some good news to crow about that goes along with my secret passion. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret but it is real. It’s the Movies.

If you are one of those people who have been practicing their Oscar award-winning speech for years (secretly of course), you will relate to this dream.

Many of you don’t know that my degree is in Film and then later, Theatre. I love the Theatre; it’s where I really learned about dialogue and character development, and improved my writing in leaps and bounds. But, as with most people, I haven’t seen near as many plays as I have movies.

My Dad gave me a super 8 film camera when I was about 14.  At that time, my less than secret passion was still horses. Yes, it had not switched to boys completely, and it was fueled by my best friend, Tracy, who had a horse. A black horse. Her friend, had a white horse, or mostly white. And thus, my first short film was born. A Western, entitled, “Good Guy, Bad Guy”

shootoutIt had a less than subtle moral theme, and used the iconic music from Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns.  The story line is two gunslingers (played by Tracy and her friend, with their horses), who meet for a shoot out.  The gunslinger all in white on the white horse rides down into the valley. Then the gunslinger all in black rides down the opposite side of the valley at high noon. They meet and dismount for the classic shootout quick draw. They fire! For several seconds you don’t know who has been killed until the gunslinger in black falls over. Now, the moral resolution to the film: the gunslinger in white, having killed, goes over to the dead gunslinger in black, takes his black hat and gets on the black horse and rides off.

Well maybe a filmmaker was not born but I did get two films out of it. It seems when you put a camera in front of experienced horsewomen, suddenly they don’t know how to get on and off their horses. The horses themselves also added some clever and hysterical moves and we had enough out-takes to have a second film that got much more interest than the first.  Since then, it seems all my plays, screenplays and films were imbued with a sense of humor.

I did have some humble successes in plays, small screen, large screen attempts, including co-writing with others, but I had to pay the bills too, so I put a hold to that pursuit to do the happy day job while on the side, I wrote articles, edited and contributed to newspapers, and taught writing in night schools. Eventually, I left the day job to write non-fiction books, give writing coaching and workshops, and run the Vancouver School of Writing (VSW). But, those plots for movies kept running in my head and so earlier this year I wrote a screenplay for the first time in many years and started to immerse myself in that craft, and find the online communities for screenwriters.  My friend and author, Eileen Cook, who read it, suggested Praxis and I remembered that several years ago me and my writing partner at the time, the very funny, late, great Irwin Barker ( who passed away 3 years ago RIP Irwin), had been shortlisted in the annual Praxis competition. I looked online and realized the deadline for this year’s competition was a week away. Eileen gave me some fast notes, but there was no time to get beta readers and, as the screenwriters call it, “coverage” (notes from readers), so I registered it with the WGA and tossed it in on the last day of the deadline.

Recently it was announced that my screenplay, The Princess and the Thief, was a semi-finalist and ranked in the top 8% of entrants.

aPrincessBride

Some feedback was:

“Witty dialogue, charming story, classic fairy tale characters. A script that leaves you

feeling like you’ve just been read a beautiful bedtime story. Magical realism raises it to
the level of The Princess Bride. Caveats: Feels a bit long at times.

 “Completely charming and whimsical. Fun set ups, good interweaving of stories.
Clever problems and solutions along the journey.”

Gee, what if I had had more time before putting it in?!  Although I missed the big prizes, one of the anonymous judges asked if they could contact me. That judge was very complimentary and may be helpful for the next steps, a redraft and on to selling, and I may have a great new relationship or even a collaborator, so I am thrilled. It seems I am back into my passion again and coming out of the closet.  I have since gotten a great deal of constructive feedback from some excellent readers to whom I am most thankful, so I have to schedule some writing redraft time, and start making some serious Hollywood connections. The truth is, I am already working on another screenplay that I like a lot, but as usual, will probably not get to it in any depth until the Writing Retreat in Mexico in January (where do you think I did the bulk of my writing on the Princess screenplay?)

PS – When I started this post, I noticed this WP report that I had been hanging onto since New Year’s that WordPress.com gives you about your blog in the past year, and thought, Wow, that’s an awesome and prophetic parallel! Was this an omen that I missed? Or perhaps it is still an omen of things to come? My advice, as always, is… just keep writing.

Here’s an excerpt from the WordPress report:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 21,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 5 Film Festivals

Click here to see and read a sample of Kathrin’s newest book Writing with Cold Feet or click on the cover below. Read Kathrin’s writing blog here. Or the Blog for VSW here.

WWCFkindlecopycover

Bucket Lists, Tango #5, Eat Pray Love

I loved the book Eat Pray Love, and it is with anticipation that I will be seeing the movie this Friday night.  But, what is it about this experience of Elizabeth Gilbert‘s that has all of us so intrigued?  What are we thirsty for?  Not all of us identify ourselves as spiritual seekers, but many of us are seeking a way to “be” in this life with grace and happiness. Let me ponder this and try to connect some dots.

The term bucket list is not new, but has found a new trend of popularity of late .  One could say my taking tango lessons is a bucket list kind of adventure, or maybe it won’t qualify until I am dancing in Buenos Aires with people who really know the tango.  One could also call it a pastime.  An interesting word pastime.  Essentially, pastimes can be anything we do in life, voluntarily, to chew up time.  Living with Jim, I discovered a critical difference in our thinking.  When we are on vacation, or just when thinking of our own mortality, we come from two different places.  When I have limited time, I say, “I have limited time so I want to fill it with as many things to experience as possible.”  Jim says, “I have limited time so I want to do as little as possible so time slows down [or feels like it does].” Jim has a point; perception is reality.  So we both come from different points of view and we do take a little from each others philosophies. Sometimes we must be strongly “encouraged” to, but we do enrich each others lives this way.  Neither is wrong, neither is right. 

Even Gilbert, who had a profound inner journey of beingness, was also travelling to three different countries experiencing all the people and differences in culture while this was happening.  Another new and perhaps appropriate mantra for our busy world is that we are human beings, not human doings.  It is a good reminder, yet I would also argue that part of human nature is to do.  It seems we want to balance these inner and outer worlds of being and doing.  And when it is really balanced we choose only quality ways of doing, as grand or as humble as they may be, and only quality ways of being, as quiet or as interconnected as they may be.  But what are those quality ways?  Aye, there’s the rub. But, perhaps we are doing more of those quality ways than we want to perceive, simply because of the grass is always greener phenomenon.  Listen to this story that Jim and I enjoy. 

A businessman was visiting a small village by the sea in Mexico and watching the fisherman. The businessman complimented one fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked him how he lived. The Mexican fisherman said, “I fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, drink wine and play guitar with my amigos.”

The businessman said, “But my friend you are missing a great opportunity here, I am a Harvard MBA and I could help you. If you spend more time fishing, with the proceeds you could buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would be running an expanded enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.”

And the fisherman asked, “What would it get me at the end of that time?”

“Oh, that’s the best part,” the businessman smiled with glee,”you will be able to go fishing, spend more time with your wife and kids and do fun things with your friends!”

Ah yes, the old keep it simple idea. Elektra and I were not together for our tango lesson #5 this week because she couldn’t make it, and darn I missed her. So there is doing, being and then sharing. But what I experience every time I return from Mexico is marvelling at how much “stuff” I own for no reason.  I seem to be addicted to this stuff which is not even “being” or “doing,”or “sharing,” it is “acquiring.” and “having.” Our pursuit, my friends, is not the pursuit of stuff, it is the pursuit of happiness and that is what I call thrival. It is why I write, why I teach, learn and coach. Because I love to do it.  Maximize the quality doings (tango to traveling), take an attitude that is healthy towards just being in life (sleeping, eating, working and loving), take care of your health (work-outs and fun-outs), and the big topper, share good company (love and be loved by your friends and lovers).

If you want to balance being, doing and sharing, why not plan to come with me and Jim to Mexico for my Writing Retreats in Winter – go to my site: http://www.survivaltothrival.com to find out how.