How to Manifest a Writing Practice

Manifesting is hard work, but not manifesting is harder.

The writer who decides to write and share their work with others can find themselves in a strange new land, wondering how to navigate through such a landscape. Writing in a journal when you feel like it is nothing like writing on a schedule with an eye to having it be read. I should know: I've just done this myself, only twelve months ago. It's such a huge difference that I wanted to spend some time talking about the change that it has required from me. A change that I can only call a manifestation explosion.

Image: Creative Commons, Flower Close Up II by Swift Flyer

Image: Creative Commons, Flower Close Up II by Swift Flyer

 

I begin my day writing and I end it writing. My mind is full of words, and it has become distracting to me if I don't write them down. The practice of writing has taken over my life-- and to glorious affect. Words have become my favorite companions.

But it wasn't always like that.

I was prompted to write this post by a recent conversation I had with a friend, who had decided to do the NaNoWriMo "write a novel in a month" challenge that is coming up soon. One question that came up in our discussion is what the point is of such a challenge, to write a novel in a month? The answer is that it's not so much about writing a bestselling book or even to write well--it is, instead about producing words/ pages/habits, all of which turn into books or other works at some point, if not at the end of the challenge. (Although writing well and writing a bestselling book could happen, of course!)

But what does such a challenge require? It requires unflinching self reflection paired with self discipline: two things that many people do not have in spades. These two things are what such a challenge is designed to cultivate for a month. In fact this is what entices some people about the challenge: that they must develop the habits and the mindset of the writer they want to be, rather than the one they talk about wanting to be. It's a call to action. I'm not going to make a value judgement here about NaNoWriMo--there are those who don't agree with the process it promotes. I'm simply interested in using the ideas it encourages as a jumping off place for explaining what has worked for me.

My writing life could be described this way: I have given myself the challenge of writing with an intensity every single day, but I am not a person who has a great deal of natural self discipline. If left to my own devices and wants, I would wait for inspiration to strike. Which doesn't happen to me a hundred percent of the time--in fact it only happens about ten percent of the time. But I have developed the habit of writing every day, whether I want to or not, whether I'm tired or not, whether I'm busy or not. Sometimes those words are for a piece I have to write; sometimes they land here; sometimes a letter...but no matter what, it's 3,000 words a day, minimum. (Weekend days 6,000 per day, minimum.) I have only taken three days off of this practice in the last thirty years, and those were all this year. I write on holidays, on my birthday, when I work a double shift, when I'm traveling. It has become something I must do, just like getting out of bed, getting dressed, making breakfast.

I have developed a fierceness with myself in order to accomplish my writing goals. I have to be tough, focused, and not fight the creative process, no matter where it takes me. Sometimes--often--it takes me somewhere I don't want to go. At least at first. I had some help to do this at the start, for while I wrote every day for many years, I lacked the belief in the power of the words I wrote. A life coach or writing coach can help a lot, just for a short time to help fine tune the goals and the practice. Tighten the vision. My coach was Molly Fisk, and one month in her company helped set me on fire. Mentors are important too: a tremendously talented bunch of people who care about your work in a genuine way. I prefer the old fashioned kind of mentor: people whose work I admire and who I have built relationships with based on that admiration.

I was giving my NaNoWriMo friend some daily living advice for how to manifest meeting the writing goals required for the challenge, and I used some of my own life lessons. I thought I'd share them here. Perhaps you will find them of interest, and I'd love to hear yours.

 

My mini life lessons for manifesting a writing life:

 

Waiting for the perfect time to write is a mistake. There is not a perfect time.

The first thing that is really important is that I let go of perfection in all aspects of my life but writing. For example, there is no perfect writing room or space, perfect quiet or alone time. This past year I tried to create such a space, and found when I finally had what I wanted, there were still imperfections. I realized I was putting more emphasis on the writing space than on the writing process, so I let the idea of a writing room go. (I was in mourning for the dream space for about a month!) Roommates are loud, children are louder. Partners need attention, one must be employed and make a living. My apartment is small and depressing and ill-lit, but waiting to move and write on my sunny balcony in Paris isn't going to happen right now.

I surround myself with supportive people, and I support them in return.

Life is messy, but that doesn't mean I don't have some choice about what messes I allow in as distractions. In particular, people can be quite challenging for me. I don't mind real life or drama to an extent, but mean spirited people, people who are cynical or dark have no place in my world. They take a lot of energy and usually demand agreement. But that agreement costs something: it affects the quality of my work and stymies my ability to create. I've learned to let people go who didn't "get" my writing/passion to write, didn't understand my values, or needed too much. This is one of hardest things I've had to learn, one of the most painful on one hand...but the most liberating on the other. 

 I keep tuned in to social media, but curate my time and who I interact with carefully.

A lot of people think turning off social media means one can meet their goals. But social media is a huge part of the creative life. It took me awhile to understand this. I've learned that social media can support the process, rather than distract. Social media is vital for creating conversations about your writing, for reading the work of others, and for connecting with people, because working and writing doesn't leave a great deal of free time to set up coffee dates with all of your friends. Social media is also exceedingly helpful if your time is precious, because you can fit it in around the time you decide, like 3 am.

Having less makes my life easier, and gives me more time to devote to what I love doing: writing.

There are too many choices to make in every day life that are distractions from writing. What to eat? What to wear? All of these decisions take time. For myself, working full time, I've had to really simplify these choices. For example, I gave the majority of my clothes away, leaving me with just enough to cover a week and half. That's all I needed..plus, no more endless laundry. I'd rather be writing.  I also got rid of most of my possessions, because they distracted me from what I needed to be doing. Lastly, letting go of instant gratification is important if I want to succeed and feel happy with my work. Think it's different for you? A new book out called The Marshmellow Test  studies how productive people control what they allow themselves to be distracted by, and how curtailing instant rewards creates a happier, more fulfilled life. A link to a review of the book from this week's New Yorker, here.

My time is limited, and setting a schedule helps me meet my goals.

Being organized is really important, especially for me, because I'm writing a book and supporting freelance projects. Organization doesn't mean Martha Stewart precision. It means understanding I have a limited amount of time. There's no reason the same piece can't be written in 5 hours that I wish I had one week to write.

I write for myself first, and then if I like it and feels good to me, I share it with the whole world. I write from the heart, unguarded.

 I think I didn't write for others for so long because I was afraid of angering my parents or my family or my friends...people that I thought were more important than the stories I had to tell. I made their opinions or disbelief of my truths weightier than my own voice. This stemmed from wanting approval, and once I realized I was never going to write something they loved and agreed with, I was free. That was an impossible ladder to climb as it had no rungs. Now I'm building my own ladder and the value judgments of people from my past don't matter. Once I started doing this, I noticed something right away: it's easier to write everything in, rather than trying to keep certain things out.

AGA