Greetings! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and even longer since I’ve done my guest spots.
Have y’all missed me? As one of my writing buddies has been saying, I’ve been working on a “super secret” project. Only, in my case, I suppose it hasn’t been super secret. I think I shared here that I was invited to be a part of this project for Cancer Research.
So while I’ve had my nose to the grindstone plugging away on my short story for this, I thought I’d let Leslie Moise have the platform today. Please give a warm welcome to Leslie!!
Five or six mornings a week, after I eat breakfast and let out my dog, I write. Most often, I sit down in the comfy chair by my window overlooking the woods and close my eyes. Then I ask a character in my novel-in-progress what she wants, or what he’s afraid of, or how she feels. I keep still until the character walks me up to me in my mind and shows me the answer. Then I open my eyes and write down what she’s done or experienced.
A couple of decades ago, my friend Rita and I attended a writers retreat led by author Louise Hawes. She taught the participants how to listen to our characters and to write down what they genuinely did and wanted, instead of forcing them to do and feel what we thought they should. Have you ever read a book and felt the characters didn’t ring true and the action felt forced? The author must’ve had her own agenda and was making the characters move about in the book like stick puppets. At that workshop, I learned to keep faith with my characters–and my readers.
For example, years later, I listened to each of my characters while I drafted my historical novel, _Judith_. There were a number of times when I felt certain what Judith showed me could not be historically accurate. I’ll change that after I fully research it and revise the manuscript, I thought. Imagine my shock during research when I saw what Judith had shown me depicted on Assyrian tiles commemorating wars won by the Assyrian army.
But what about those mornings when life gets too disruptive for me to sit down in my armchair, or at my desk? Like the week my 89-year-old father had stomach flu. Or the day after I only slept for four very broken hours, and had minor surgery scheduled that afternoon. Non-writers may imagine those are the times when a writer settles on the sofa with a glass of Merlot and binge watches a favorite series on Netflix. People who think of writing as a hobby might treat days like these–when the muse is mute or unavailable–as days when the writer shouldn’t even try to write. Reality is more prosaic and more inventive than that.
I may not produce lots of words on any given day–even a good day–but cumulatively, I produce many pages in a week. And I average a drafted novel in a year, plus who knows how many poems, the occasional essay, and so on.
On those difficult days, I at least make notes for questions to ask my character/s on a better day, jot ideas about character dynamics (like who tends to see themselves as a victim, who is a bully, and so on). At the very least, I do some preliminary research about how doors were hinged in 70 B.C.E., or the types of workboats commonly used on the Chesapeake Bay. And I take at least one action a day to help promote my books already in print, submit a poem to a literary magazine, or contact an agent about my newest manuscript.
If I only get to take an action to promote my work in the morning, I may squeeze in some revision time in the afternoon. Though I draft the best in the morning, when I’m fresh, revision or editing can work later in the day.
Before my stroke five years ago, I took a Client Attraction Seminar led by Sandie Griffin. We talked about the importance of taking time off as part of the creative process. Up until then, I never took a day off from writing, and felt guilty when circumstances meant I couldn’t write on a particular day. Now, I choose a day or two to take away from writing each week, and if a day happens when I can’t write, I choose that as one of my days off. But I try not to take many days in a row away from writing. A day off after several at work refreshes; too much time away from the notepad and pen, or the keyboard, makes it difficult to get back into the flow.
There is a benefit to keeping my writing a priority:
When life happens and I can’t do any drafting for several days in a row
–when I can’t manage more than jotting those questions to ask my characters later, the way I had to when Dad had flu–something inspiring happens. Decades ago, when I only wrote when the muse struck, this didn’t happen. But now, if I don’t write for several days in a row, a poem will pop up, often later in the afternoon of the third or fourth day.
My mother died a year and a half ago. For most of that time, I drafted poems about and for her, but none of them came alive. Then, several days into Dad’s bout of flu, early one evening I read an article about spark birds, the bird that sparks a birder’s interest in birding–learning about them. It set me thinking about my own spark bird, and a poem rolled through me about watching birds with my mother. Neither of us knew or cared which birds we saw, but now I easily identify all the birds that come to my feeders. I wrote about the Juncos my mother called “milk birds”, my spark bird. I wrote about my love for birding that grew out of the love I shared with my mother.
It turns out that I’ve shown up for writing so often and so long, now if I don’t show up to write, writing shows up for me. I am not the only writer I know of who’s had this happen. A poet friend of mine would have poems force themselves into her daily life if she couldn’t find time to write when life got busy. She worked at a meat counter in a butcher shop, and if a poem thrust itself on her at work, she jotted many a draft on butcher’s paper between customers.
Writing is like jogging. If you do a little bit most days, soon you find yourself running longer, faster, farther. It’s not about how much you accomplish in one day, especially if your life interrupts your writing time that day. It’s about how much you write in a week, a month, a year–a lifetime.
No matter what life throws at you today, carve out five minutes to write. Sit down with a notepad in your lap, if nothing else. Put pen to paper, and write for that five minutes, even if it’s just wondering about your character, jotting down a poem idea, capturing a few ideas for an essay. Sitting and staring out the window doesn’t count. Writing does. By keeping creativity’s door open for little things, you make it more likely big ideas may show up eventually, over time.
P.S. I drafted a chunk of this blog post after a night of little to no sleep. If I can do it, so can you.
Thank you Leslie, for sharing this insight. I hope you’ll come back and be my guest again soon!
Leslie Moise’s historical novel, _Judith_, won a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, as well as an International Book Award Finalist Medal in 2015. _Judith_ and Moise’s knitting memoir, _Love is the Thread_, are published by Pearlsong Press, and are available on the Pearlsong site, as well as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powells.
Her poetry chapbook about her friendship with another woman writer, _Linked by the Joy of Words_, is published by R. C. Linnell Publishing, and is also available on Amazon.
She lives in Louisville, Kentucky, on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River. She is on Facebook and welcomes discussion with other writers and fans.
Go check out Leslie’s books and follow her!
Trying to get back into my schedule for my blog posts, and now that the end is in sight for this one, I have a little breathing room.
Write on my friends, write on!
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