Does Your Writing Next Need Reweaving by Shan Jeniah Burton

Fall is at hand – a time when many of us scurry about like busy rodents, sprucing up our family nests to better suit the long indoors months. But, since this is ROW80, I have a question for us all:

What about our writing nests?

I love imagery – since I was a little girl, it’s helped me to make sense out of complicated ideas. I envision my writing life as a sheltering construct woven from interconnected threads, and from time to time, I need to look these over, replace frayed bits, get rid of the debris, and tighten things up. The energy of fall is perfect for this, and that will be my focus for this round. 

Want to join me, and reweave our writing nests together? Here’s a few ideas to get us going.

Assess the Framework:

A nest needs a base structure, a frame to hold all those threads together. Without our bodies – well, we wouldn’t exist in the physical plane, and writing would be much trickier! Let’s give our bodies what they need to support all those other threads:

  • Feed the need. Sometimes, when I’m deeply engaged with my writing, I forget to eat. Not good for creativity or my body. Let’s remember to schedule in food breaks, and eat things that make us feel good.
  • Get a move on! Writing can be sedentary, and time can pass without us being aware of it. Let’s get moving every hour or so, to oxygenate our blood, stretch muscles, and get a better perspective. I do hometending projects in short bursts while writing; I get a happier body and a cleaner house, at the same time!
  • Go into training. Getting up and moving helps, but we need more intensive exercise, too. I’m making room for these in my life – working out or swimming, fitness classes, dancing, jumping rope, going for a walk or a bike ride – what appeals to you? Let’s do it together!
  • Sleep matters. Learning what we need to do to get enough good sleep can do wonders for our writing – and our attitude! 

Give Me Shelter:

One of my goals this year is to make my writing spaces inspiring and functional, with elements that stimulate imagination and promote a calming flow. Small changes can make a big difference -let’s take a look!

  • Repurpose items to suit new needs. Sometimes, just looking at things we have in a new way helps. My desk was once my Grandma’s hoosier cabinet, where she baked and made ‘jells’. Writing there connects me to my own past.
  • Treating ourselves does wonders for creativity. When some small item makes me smile or feels just right for my space, I feel more creative. That’s why my stapler is turquoise!
  • Engage your senses. Colors, scents, textures, and sounds all add magic to my writing nest. Candles, fabrics, music, bits of nature – these give our senses more room to explore!
  • Use symbols. Let’s make space for the personal touches – items that remind us of loved ones, capture a treasured moment, or simply inspire us.

Mindful Matters:

When our thoughts are scattered and disorganized, things we want to learn, explore, or play with can get lost…

  • Taking stock. When thoughts and projects are tangled up, reassess. Bringing even a little order to things gives us something to build on.
  • Make lists; set goals. There’s lots of ways to do this – like ROW80! I have a WIP bulletin board, and my laptop’s calendar feature gives me a visual idea of what I want to accomplish, and when.
  • Make a plan. Knowing the what, when, why, where, and how of our projects keeps momentum moving forward.
  • Learn something new. Like bodies, our minds stay sharper if they get lots of exercise, exploration, and play!

Emotional Threads:

Writing is best when it comes from our deep, powerful places. Who and what feeds our souls, and helps us tap into our deeps

  • Are we connected? Getting enough time with loved ones and friends? Scheduling a visit, even if it’s just coffee or a quick chat, can do wonders!
  • A change of scenery. Creativity soars in places that inspire – even if it’s just the backyard!
  • Let’s indulge ourselves! Yup. Spending time with favorite books, foods, shows, activities – whatever gives us that ahhhhh! Feeling.
  • Breathe. Seriously. Let’s inhale and exhale with intention. Air is life!
  • Smile, laugh, and hug. Need I say more? =)

Shared Threads:

When what we share reflects who we are, we connect with the wider world, and touch others with our words.

  • Sprucing up our blogs or websites. For me, late fall and winter are perfect times to freshen things up byplaying with new layouts, designs, and sidebar items.
  • Oversharing? We can get overwhelmed by all the social media in our lives. Evaluating what suits usnow, and stepping back from what’s less suited, can help.
  • Undersharing? Writers can also feel disconnected, or bored, or like we’re talking to the void – that’s a good time to branch out and try something new. Joining a challenge or group, or even wandering around online to see what’s out there, can inspire connection and ideas.

With a little time, attention, and affection, our writing nests can be strong, beautiful, and inspirational!

Acknowledgment: The inspiration for this post is the essay Building an Unschooling Nest”, at Sandra Dodd. It’s an unschooling site, and so much more! 

Write Passionately And Prosper by Shan Jeniah Burton

What fires you up? What consumes you? What do you keep coming back to, again and again, in life? What are you passionate about? Do you indulge it, or feel guilty about it? Do you try to avoid it while you’re writing, because youfeel it distracts you from your work?

I used to do that, too. For me, it’s Vulcans, and it probably always will be. I have a deep, abiding passion for them that’s been with me for over three decades, now. There’s something about those green-blooded, pointy-eared beings who wear cool logic as armor over souls filled with intense and sometimes uncontrollable passions that ignites my imagination and utterlyfascinates me.

Yes, I have many other passions, but, again and again, the Vulcans draw me in, compel me, demand – politely, of course – I give them and their stories my attention. For most of my life, I told myself that the fan fiction I wrote wasn’t “real” writing, and that I was “wasting time” when I indulged it. I wrote those stories in notebooks I kept hidden, showing them only to one or two select people, and I ridiculed myself for the time and energy I expended on them.

I was cheating myself.

Only when I decided to take my passion for Vulcans seriously did I move forward as a writer who creates not only Star Trek fan fiction, but also:

  • An original fantasy series, part of a duology with my fanfiction Trek universe;
  • A poetry collection;
  • A series of novellas about life and death at a private no-cost hospice resort;
  • Short stories and flash fiction.
  • Several essays, and nearly a thousand blog posts, so far.

Those are the tangible proof that something shifted when I embraced my Vulcan passion. There are also other, less easily quantified benefits:

  • I’m better at allowing my characters to breathe and live on the page.
  • I understand more about what to say and what to leave unsaid, and the power of the smallest gestures – a swallow, the brush of fingertips, a glance, a sigh…
  • I’ve extended and stretched the way I see myself as a writer and a person, and how my passions feed all of my writing.
  • I come to my writing with a sense of freedom and playfullness inspired by indulging my passions, and I immerse myself in the realities I create.

I used to divide my life into rigid categories. I had a ‘Real Writing’ category, and an ‘Other Stuff I Write But Feel Guilty About’ category. But I’ve come to see that it’s all writing, just as writing is a part of me. Interconnection, interweaving, all swirled and blended together into an ever-shifting whole. Everything I write is Real Writing. There is no “other”. It all feeds each other, and that’s where passions come in.

Loving what I do makes me a better writer.

It’s not because I love Vulcans. It’s because I accept that I love them, revel in my love for them, and give myself permission to write about them, observe them, delve their minds…to let myself sink into all that it is that makes them irresistible to me, and to capture that and offer it to you.

I get more out of indulging my passions than I do out of fighting them. Since I began treating my fascination with writing Trek fanfiction as equally worthy, I’ve allowed myself to indulge in delightful observation of T’Pol and Spock, my two favorite Vulcans (anyone else want to read that as ‘My Favorite Martian’, or is that just me?).

Vulcans aren’t human. Their body language, thought processes, and approach to life are quite different. There is a stillness about them, a lack of the types of exuberant, spontaneous motions we humans tend to engage in. Their usually submergedemotions aren’t nearly as much a factor in their decision making as logic. A small lift of the eyebrow conveys amusement, frustration, surprise…a tiny shift of visual focus to indicate anger, discomfort, evasion…each movement means more, in Vulcans, and, in order to find my stories, I’ve needed to become attentive to those subtle shifts.

Vulcans are also a study in contrasts and unresolved inner conflicts. Writing them requires understanding and conveying the lighting flashes and thunderclaps when they lose their calm and control. When the maelstrom of raw emotion is loosed, they might kill to win a mate; make illogical and self-destructive choices, sob, seduce, scream, or sink silently and rigidly into themselves.

In learning to read Vulcans, to focus on those tiny clues and glaring signs of their inner thoughts, motivations, conflicts, and emotions, I’ve honed skills that make me a better writer no matter what species my characters are.

Because that’s really what’s at the heart of fiction writing – understanding why our characters do what they do, how to read and see into them more deeply, to know what it would be to live within their skins, their minds, their souls, their lives.

It isn’t about Vulcans or Star Trek – not really.

It’s about passion.

Because the best writing is based upon passion. We don’t choose our passions; they happen to us, based on many factors: exposure, interests, personality, needs…By indulging our passions, we’re engaging ourselves more wholly – and isn’t that exactly what we need to do, to be the best writers we can be?

At the beginning of this post, I asked what you are passionate about, and whether you indulged those passions. Now, at the end, I offer up a challenge. If you already indulge your passions without guilt, can you see the ways in which they’ve enhanced your writing? If you don’t, will you find some small space you can give to your passion, freely and joyfully?

You may find that your life – and your writing – will become richer and deeper, if you do. May you, to paraphrase the Vulcans, “Write passionately and prosper.”

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

 

How Playing Cake Mania 3 Makes Me a Better Writer by Shan Jeniah Burton

Would you believe that playing games – like my current favorite, Cake Mania 3 – makes me a better writer?

I used to feel guilty and ashamed about my gaming time. I had decided, after all, to be a Serious Writer. I’d told my family that this was my work, and so I’d better work at it – and hard! – to justify the time I spent writing rather than doing the things I was “supposed to”.

But then an all-night gaming marathon unraveled the plot tangles I had been “avoiding”. I was excited to write, the words flowed, and they were better than good!

Gaming isn’t an escape, but a space for my mind to play with something else, so that the ideas wandering around in my mind have time and space to coalesce and connect to one another in new ways. The more attention I pay to what’s happening when I take the time to engage in game play, the more benefits I see for my writing. 

Awareness of Patterns:

Cake Mania is a game of patterns. It’s essential to learn to predict them. This is handy, because it gets my mind trained on patterns and themes in my writing projects, too – and that helps to untangle the knotty places.

Visible Improvements through Practice:

Sitting alone writing can lead to crippling self-doubt. The inner editor takes over, and I start wondering what business I have picking up a pen, or opening my word processing program. Even when it takes me a week to get through a round of game play, I can see the slow gaining of skills, in plain numbers. I see that writing works in similar ways. It may take time, but I am getting better.

The value of mindfulness and intention:

In the upper levels of the game, things move very quickly, with lots of variables. It’s easy to make mistakes, and mistakes tend to cascade into disaster if I don’t catch them quickly enough to correct them. Knowing what I’m trying to accomplish, when gaming or writing, helps tremendously. It’s helped me shift from pantsing randomly to an open form of plotting. Now I know where I’m headed, in something other than a vague way. That keeps me focused on my destination, the same way that I’m focused on reaching my monetary goal for each level of play.

Relaxed flow:

Gaming and writing can be stressful. With so many variables and things to keep track of, so many choices and possibilities, can have me stabbing at my screen or keyboard, clenching my teeth, and breathing too fast as my whole body tenses. That’s when I make the most mistakes. When dealing with a complex level of play or a long-term writing project, I’m learning to immerse myself gently, rather than with a cannonball. When I do this, my gaming and writing time are pleasant, engaging, and fun – and I play and write better as a result.

Experimentation and variation:

There are many choices in CakeMania, and in writing. I love experimenting with various arrangements and systems. I want to know what works, and what doesn’t. I want to see if I can get better results if I tweak this or do that a little differently. I’ve recently starting revising my WIPS, and this willingness to explore the possibilities while gaming carries over, making me more willing and less afraid to make even sweeping changes, when I feel they might improve the story.

Starting over:

Sometimes, I just get stuck. I’m the persistent type; I will keep trying new things as long as I can think of new things to try…then, often, I’ll wait until I think of more things to try. But, eventually, if I can’t figure it out, and I’m not having fun trying…I go back to the very first, most basic levels, and make another attempt. Once in a while, I delete something that just isn’t working at all, and move on to something else, without regret.

Incremental progress:

I keep Cake Mania pinned to my task bar, and play a round or two between other projects and activities. It’s amusing, and a pleasant break or transition that helps me clear the palette of my thoughts as I move through an array of projects. As I climb through the levels, I’m making incremental progress toward my writerly goals. The two are connected and complementary. The gaming breaks show me clearly how far I’ve come since last time, which helps me stay above water with my long-term, series-length goals.

Rhythm, variations, and adaptability:

Cake Mania flows to varying rhythms that shift quickly. Being able to adapt is key, here. There would be little fun or challenge in the game, if things didn’t shift. It’s the same with writing. There are various rhythms in a story, and sometimes things shift without warning. That’s when I need to be the most adaptable; to decide when to keep to my plan, and when to go along with the shifting flow…

The next time you feel guilty about gaming or some other “distraction”, maybe take a moment to look for the benefits you’re reaping by indulging yourself. You might just discover that the alleged “distraction” is actually a vital and unnoticed part of your writing process – something to pursue without shame, knowing that it’s making you a better writer!

Wouldn’t that feel better than guilt?

 

The Play’s The Thing by Shan Jeniah Burton

Hi there! Today, I want to talk about playing.
What’s that? Play doesn’t sound very motivational?
Maybe not. I know traditional wisdom holds that commitment, dedication, self-discipline, schedule, and consistency are the path to attaining a goal, no matter what it is. I’m not saying these things aren’t important, because they do all have their places – unless you happen to know someone with a functioning magic wand, or your pages appear perfectly at the ends of your fingertips, with agents knocking down your door, carrying offers from publishers in their hands.
No? Me either, actually.
This space will have many posts that help with those areas of writing.
Me? I’d rather play.
Along with being a writer, I’m also the homeschooling mom of two children. Much of my time and energy is focused on providing a life rich in experience and opportunities for play and discovery. They are avid, curious, continuous learners, and what they discover, through their play-filled lives, goes far wider and deeper than any planned curriculum ever could.
To me, being part of and witness to the way my children learn is confirmation that humans learn best through play.
From infancy, we are geared to play:
  • The newborn learns to smile in playful response to mom or dad.
  • The older baby rolls over in the quest to reach a toy.
  • The toddler learns to eat while painting every surface and grasps gravity by dropping nearly everything in sight.
Most of us, at least in America, went to school as children of five or six. And there we were, for a good chunk of the rest of our formative years. Play became something relegated to recess, after school (if homework and chores permitted it), weekends, or those covert moments we could steal from other parts of our lives.
Play became something equated with “goofing off” , laziness and wasting time – the opposite of commitment, dedication, and work ethic.
But what if that isn’t true?
We are writers for a reason, or many reasons. But I’m willing to bet that most of us, when we began, were passionate, because writing brought us joy, happiness, and the pureness of play.
I have a cabinet filled with handwritten notebooks. I’ve been filling them for years, because a story grabbed me, and wouldn’t let me go, and I needed to give it a voice. Many of these aren’t publishable, and, even for those that might be, I’m not likely to do it.
I wrote them as play, just for myself. They’re pure fantasy, and I want to keep them that way. I’m developing other projects for publication; these are just for my own titillation. I share them with a few very trusted others, but that isn’t why I wrote them.
They were explorations: of my own depths and breadths, of ideas that I knew would never be for public consumption, as a place to experiment without consequence, or pour forth emotions it wouldn’t be wise to share publicly.
And they fed my creative spirit in a way that only play can.
Because I give myself space to play:
  • my other writing touches deeper and more intuitive places within me.
  • I make connections I might not make otherwise.
  • I’m braver; more willing to take chances with my writing.
  • I know what delights me, and what I want to spend my time on.
  • There is a breath of fresh air in all my writing.
  • I don’t resent the more mundane tasks that are part of building a writing career.
  • I’m generally optimistic, and probably more fun to be around.
  • My mind gets time to drift, wander, simmer, revel, renew, and rest.
This round, I’m focusing on play. I intend to approach my goals with a sense of play and adventure; to blend those important things like dedication and consistency with wonder and delight. I’m leaving myself lots of room to explore the cow trails I find along the way, to imagine and fantasize and toy with ideas even when I can’t see them leading anywhere I can exploit as a part of a career plan.
I want to stretch, discover, grow, and learn….
Would you like to play with me? =)
~*~

The Lovely Chaos of Writing: Weaving a Writing Life by Shan Jeniah Burton

ROW80 is “The Writing Challenge That Knows You Have a Life.”
In my case, life isn’t compartmentalized, with labeled dividers for every area. It’s lovely chaos, an untidy weaving of children, husband, unschooling, chronically disheveled house, rotating cast of pets and passions, friends, bills, stuffy noses, and more – much much, more. It’s a life that works better with a rhythm than a schedule.
And I write – quite a lot, these days.
But there are those times when all of my writing goals seem to stall out, feel pointless, or suddenly grow as tricky to summit as Mount Everest. Sometimes, there’s only enough energy to live, and none left to set words to paper or screen.
So then what?
I used to feel like a failure at those times. I’d look guiltily at every moment, and ridicule myself for the time I was “wasting” on other things. Too many of the moments I spent relaxing, sleeping, watching TV, or dealing with “distractions” like dishes, laundry, or just hanging out with my husband or kids, I counted as “stolen” from writing. I was intended to be sitting at the computer, or with a notebook, opening veins and pouring out words.
That guilt, like cheating on a diet, led me to avoid writing far past the time when circumstances shifted, and I might have returned to it.
And then I had a paradigm shift.
Writing isn’t a separate part of my life. Like being a wife and a mother, like unschooling and hometending, it is woven into the pattern of everything I do.
I don’t need to be sitting at a laptop to be writing. The most important thing is to be present in my life, and with the ideas that dance, dart, or linger in my mind while I ‘m focused on other things.
Interruptions and pauses in my writing are a part of the life I’ve chosen. Holding grudges against those I love when they take precedence is not only unpleasant for everyone, it also wastes energy that I could be using for living, and writing when life has space for that. It won’t be that many more years before my children are grown, and then there will be more space for writing – and likely less spontaneous joy in my days, too.
When I allow myself the full weaving of my life, even when it takes me away from writing, I write more. Maybe that seems paradoxical, but forcing a schedule that doesn’t play well with the other threads of my life takes energy from writing. Flowing with the wholeness of my life feels like floating. There’s writing time, hometending time, family time, time to renew, learning time – and it all blends together, always shifting, always alive.
Giving myself the space to live fully, and without guilt when writing isn’t at the forefront, also gives me plenty to write about, when the time, energy, and focus return.
The trick, for me, is to pay attention, to tap into the writing going on already as chatter or narration in my mind, and then to slip in some time – even a few minutes here and there – to jot down what is there.
This isn’t something new and untried. William Carlos Williams, who was also a doctor, often
jotted very short poems on his prescription pad. The Gettysburg Address, one of the shortest and most powerful speeches in American history, was said to have been written on the train ride to the battlefield.
What is deep and powerful within me is what I most want to write and share. There’s no need to make time for it, because it’s always there – part of everything I do, think, and feel, always. It wants to be known, and it’s waiting for me to discover it. Already, though, it’s there, and it’s mine, woven into every part of my living..
When I began to understand that I am always writing, even when I’m not, physically, I started to shock myself when I had the moments to set things down. Releasing the thought that writing is something I must fight for or force, and instead see that I’m already nearly there, frees all the energy I used to give to policing that sacred time and space. Now, my time and energy are given to living – and many of the threads of that living, as I weave it, are writing threads.
And, in those times when the well of words and ideas seems to run dry, there is solace and peace in knowing that living attentively will prime that pump again, because I’m a writer, and I can’t write in a vacuum.
So, rather than trying to find writing time, this quarter, I am challenging myself to live – with presence and engagement, and attention to the threads used in the weaving, the patterns that emerge, and how writing dances through and around, over and under, the other threads… Join me, and let’s all weave our way to our goals, together!

 ~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton

Do I REALLY Have To? The Puritan Work Ethic and Writing with Passion by Shan Jeniah Burton

Let me start by saying that I’m an American, born and raised on the East Coast, where Puritans had a lot to do with the formation of culture. The Puritans were not exactly known for being passionate about much but their religious zeal (think The Scarlet Letter, or the Salem Witch Trials). Hard work and rigid behavior were the path to heaven; life here was certainly not intended to be fun.

 

Ok, you say, but what does that have to do with ROW80, or, for that matter, writing?

 

BICHOK is a rather famous acronym, in writerly places. Much is said about the self-discipline that writers must have. Often, I read articles and comments encouraging writers not to wait for the muse, but to force ourselves instead to the task at hand,as though writing is a war in which we must win every battle, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, and writing, no matter what.

 

I used to believe that. I used to have a lot of “have-to’s in my life. Enforcing those “have-to’s” on myself and my family took up a lot of my time and energy – and I often found myself resisting that endless list, rebelling outright, and feeling like a failure.

 

I didn’t write much, in those days, and when I did, I usually felt like it “didn’t count” if it was less than perfect, or if the words just poured out, or even if it was fun.

 

Because everyone knows that writing is hard, relentless, grinding effort, and must be endured and gotten through, with a main force of will…

 

Right?

 

We have to do it.

Do we really have to? Do I?

 

This round, I am delving my passions. And writing because I “have to” sounds about as far from passion as I can get. Passion is wide open and reaching outward. That is clenched up tight, white-knuckled and tense-necked. I’m not even sure there is space for passion, in such a posture and mindset. I picture fingers stiffly pounding at the keyboard, and gritted teeth, and a mind so bent on producing that the words get dammed up inside, unable to break free and breathe onto the screen or the page.

 

Writing done well is a passionate, wide-open act, reaching out to the reader, offering up our souls, our truths, and our fantasies in the form of our words.

 

Do we REALLY have to treat it like hard labor, or place rigid codes of behavior upon it?

 

If we are passionate about our writing (and, if we aren’t, then the better question might be “Why am I doing this?”), wouldn’t it be better if we came to court it, tease it, tempt it – and then gave ourselves over to the spirit that moved us, when it did, with joyful abandon?

 

Do we REALLY have to drive ourselves to it, jaw and heart clenched up tight as we mutter, “Butt in chair; hands on keyboard” over and over again, as though it’s a mantra, snarling at anyone who dares to interfere with the sanctity of our writing time?

 

I don’t have to.

 

I can instead live a rich life – hugging my children, having long conversations with my husband over our morning coffee, going places and doing things that are not directly writing, and all without guilt. I can take hot showers and let the ideas come, as they often do.

And I can stay up all night, writing, not because I have to, but because the spirit moved me, and there is joy and passion and deep truth, for me, when I sink into my own mind in the wee hours.

 

All the energy I used to spend forcing myself, is now spent living a life that blends writing, reading, TV, family, pets, travel, hometending, time in nature and with friends, learning, and love in ever-shifting patterns. Time spent not writing, not forcing myself to write when the words and my mind aren’t there, allows space for things to simmer in the stew of my subconscious – and, at least for me, that doesn’t happen on a schedule.

 

Do I have to write?

No.

 

Do I choose to write?

Yes!

 

More and more often, I do it with a wild passion and a tingling thrill that have made my exponentially more prolific than I ever was in those “have-to” days, when I avoided anything that smacked of writing in pure human rebellion against what is forced.

 

This round, I challenge you to ask the question: Do I REALLY have to write?

Or can it be a joyful choice, a present you give generously to yourself? An interlude with yourself, and your fantasies, a daydream set to words?

 

May you find joy and freedom and passion in the answer!

 

I certainly have.

~*~

Shan Jeniah Burton