Caring for the Writer Outside – Part 2

Last post, I talked about caring for your inner writerly-self by consuming good art, and finding inspiration in the things you see and listen to and read.  The second part of this Writerly Care discussion is on Self Care – that is, taking care of the Outer You, the shell you walk around in every day.  We as human beings – and especially as writers – tend to forget to take care of ourselves sometimes.

Here’s the thing: I feel like it’s so much easier to access that creative side of my brain when my body is well taken care of.

I’ve found some pretty straightforward self-care methods that help me feel like a better, more energized person – so therefore also a better writer.  Here’s my top 5 tips for caring for the Outside of the Writer:

1.  Drink Water

*Whispers* okay I know this one is a bit cliche, and writers hate cliche things.  But really, folks.  Drink water instead of soda.  Drink water when you feel hungry.  Drink water as you write.  Drink ice water when you want something to make you feel better.  Drink water.

2.  Exercise (or at least go outside!)

I can feel your reactions.  You’re all doing this:

cas head tilt

“Hmmm, exercise?  No thanks.  I’d rather shoot myself in the foot.  Then I’d have a valid excuse to sit in my comfy chair all day.”

But listen.  I’m not saying you have to run a marathon.  I’m saying get up from your laptop and do 20 Jumping Jacks.  I’m saying take your dog on a walk.  Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some plot bunnies while you’re out walking around.  I know that for me, personally, I feel a lot better after exercising.  My mind is clear, my body is tired-in-a-good-way, and I feel energized and ready to face the day.  And when I do sit down to write, it’s that much easier to focus, sink into my world, and let the words flow from my fingertips.  A small writer’s block is often cured by some sunshine and fresh air.

And if the outdoors is too much for you, get up and put on some music, and dance around like a drunk giraffe (as demonstrated by the 11th Doctor in the gif below).  It will get your blood flowing and your ideas churning.

drunk giraffe

 

3.  Eat (something) Healthy

I like to munch a lot as I write, so it’s important that I have some healthy snacks in my house.  If I consume chips and chocolate all day long, my body and mind feel yucky.  That’s not to say that you can’t eat chocolate.  Please, eat chocolate.  But also find some fruits or veggies that you enjoy.  Writing is hard, you guys, so why not fuel your physical self with good things instead of yucky things?

Also, I’ve heard some of you lovely writerly folk say that on a particularly intense writing day, you simply forget about meals.  I get it: there have been times when I’m mid-chapter and forget about eating lunch or something.  So, I recommend you stock your refrigerator (or, if you’re a college kid, your lil’ mini-fridge) full of healthy snacks like yogurt and fruit before a big writing day.  Then you can grab something nourishing and get right back to it.

eat you'll feel better lupin.gif

 

4.  Get Enough Sleep (at least occasionally)

I know we have this idea of the Brilliant Writer being up at 2am, madly pounding away at their keyboard.  But that doesn’t have to be true.  *Checks time* 1:58 am.  Hehehe.

Sure, if inspiration rears its ugly head at midnight, get up and type for a while.  But also, try to give yourself enough rest.  Don’t be afraid to take a night off to go to bed early and recharge your body.  You’re not going to be your best writerly self when you’re brain’s got a Tiredness Cloud hovering about.

Yes, coffee is a writer’s best friend.  But sometimes sleep is a good pal, too.

coffee

 

5.  Forgive Yourself

Okay, this last one is a more about your inner writer than your outer one.  But this one is an important thing for me to remember: writing begins with forgiveness.  I grabbed this idea from this blog post, but let put it this way: don’t let yesterday’s failure affect today’s success.  Forgive yourself for not writing yesterday, or at all the past week, or the past month.  And then sit down and write today.

Look, right now I’m a busy college student, and writing isn’t my job.  It’s my hobby.  Being a full-time student is my job, and as much as I want writing to be my profession, it’s not right now.  So, if I’ve spent the last three days studying for exams instead of writing, I’m not going to beat myself up.  Sitting down to write today is wonderful and delightful, and if it’s the first time in a while I’ve done so, that’s okay.  I’m going to enjoy it anyways.

Which of these do you struggle with?  Do you relate to this advice at all?  Do you have any more writerly wisdom to share on the subject of self-care?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Caring for the Writer Inside, Part 1

This is part 1 of a short Writerly Care series I’m starting.  It’s not exactly writing advice, more like advice on being a writer and taking care of the artist within.

Today’s topic: consume good art.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes.

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I’m sure some of you have heard this before, or are at least familiar with the idea that good writers read a ton.  And I agree – I definitely feel like reading fuels me to write. Reading good books (and sometimes bad ones) makes me want to write good books.

BUT.  I also find inspiration in so many other things.

This is the best way I can describe it: seeing good art makes me want to create art.

I love following YouTubers who create things for a living.  I love following artists on Instagram who post their drawings and share their light.  I love songs that blend lyrics and rhythm and notes to make something beautiful and new.

So, this is your friendly reminder that you as a writer need to consume good art.  I have some suggestions if you’re feeling a deficit in your art diet:

1. Poetry

There’s something delightful about poetry.  It’s loud and soft, small and potent.  The words pack so much power in so little space.  I recently discovered Mary Oliver, and I really like her poetry.  I’m sure you’re familiar with some other new poets that are getting a lot of hype.  Go read the poetry, soak in the words, bask in the strength of them.

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2. Music

Browse through Spotify, click around on YouTube, listen to a new genre.  I’ve found that I have a constant need for new music, and it’s part of how I stay inspired.  Expand your horizons.  Try musicals, or soundtrack music, or indie, or country, or rap, or vidoegame music.  Let good music drive you to write good stories.

3. Old Favorites

I re-watched Fellowship of the Ring with a friend last night, and I feel like a new human. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite movies of all time.  Watching one of these again reminded me just how much stories matter, and how much they mean to people. These movies motivate me to keep telling my stories.

so there I was

Maybe you don’t have time for a 4-hour movie with a friend.  That’s okay; listen to a 4-minute old favorite song that makes you fall in love with being an artist.  Read a chapter from a favorite book to remind yourself why you’re a story-teller.

Consume good art.  Let it fill your soul so that it spills out onto the page when you write.  Take inspiration from the creators and writers and artists all around you.  Find things that you love and enjoy them, and then go create things to share with the world.

And if you need some suggestions to get you started, here’s some things I’ve been enjoying lately:

Music: Dear Evan Hansen (a new musical), A Playlist of My Favorite Soft/Chill Music, Some of My Favorite Instrumental Music

YouTubers (also musicians): Tessa Violet, Dodie ClarkPeter Hollens, Rusty Clanton

Instagramers: Mari Andrew (adorable artist), Inspired to Write (bestest human ever)

Let me know in comments if you experience this too – where seeing some great piece of art makes you want to create as well.  Also, let me know if you’ve found some great music/ movies/ art recently, or what you’re enjoying that inspires you.  Do you have artists you look up to?  Do you have a favorite movie that moves you to tears?  Share your thoughts.

Re-Writes & Happiness

writing in class
This is my notebook for my math class.  Only there’s about twice as much novel-writing as math notes in it, because I write in class a lot.

I’m once again finding myself in the vast green land of Re-Writes.  To be honest, I think this might be my favorite part of novel-creation.  The rough draft is hard because I’m not sure where the story is supposed to be going, and then later, edits are monotonous and they just take forever.

But in between those two, there are Re-Writes.  For me, this is the sweet spot of writing.  It’s the mysterious Wood Between the Worlds, where the real story starts to take place.

Right now I’m working on a fun, snarky, YA urban-fantasy novel that I originally wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2015.  After a year and a half of very little love, it’s finally getting the attention it deserves.  Because here’s the thing: in NaNo, I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted the plot to be.  I knew very little going into that November, and just hard-core ‘Pantsed’ my way through the month (in other words, behaved like a Pantser, or one who flies by the seat of their pants when writing as opposed to outlining first).  So then on December 1st, I was left with 50,002 words of cool characters, a great voice, a fantastic world, and very rambling plot.  So now I’m taking all those things and adding characters, tension, and a real plot.  In other words, I’m doing re-writes.

And it’s amazing.  I’ve already written the rough draft, so I’m that much closer to having a complete, ready-to-share-with-the-world story.  (Or at least share with my mom.)  The fact that the rough draft is already done gives me strength and hope.

done the impossible, that makes us mighty

But also, I’m still in the writing phase (I’m creating like 10 new chapters out of nowhere), which is the best because WRITING IS FUN.  And since I’ve written the end of the story (or a version of the end), I know where this needs to go.  I know (sortof) what needs to happen.  I have the bare-bones story, and I can then add in a plot: complete with conflict, stakes, and motivation.

So, yeah.  Remember this quote?

first draft

I love this quote.  I live by this quote.

For this novel, I’ve written the rough draft.  I’ve hauled in the sand.

And now, my friends, it’s time to start building castles.

Book Review – The Book Thief

The book thiefI don’t write blog post book reviews for every book I read.  (Follow me on Goodreads if you want an update for everything I’m reading.)  But when I read something that stands out to me as a writer and not just as a reader, I think it warrants a book review.

This is a book that stole my heart, shattered it, and handed me back the broken pieces.

Germany, WWII.  A girl who steals books.  Darkness and hatred and hope and the power of words to change to world.

It’s amazing and earth-shaking and quiet and huge, and THE WAY THAT THIS AUTHOR USES WORDS IS MY FAVORITE.  I laughed, I cried, I sat on the edge of my seat.

Where do I start? The characters. They were so real and raw and funny and I feel like I’ve acquired new friends from these pages.  They were flawed and scared and brave and I just wanted to give them all hugs and a new chance at life.

The writing. Okay, so the book is narrated by Death. Sounds weird, but works brilliantly. He’s the perfect narrator.  He’s not harsh and evil, he’s sad and weary and terrified of how humans are killing each other faster than ever before.  It terms of the writing itself, Markus Zusak’s command of words is chilling and beautiful and soul-wrenching at times. The way that he molds images and sentences makes you feel like you’re reading something written by Someone Other-worldy, which is perfect because Death is our unfailing narrator.

Final Thoughts: I can’t believe that it took me so long to pick up this book, and I’m so glad I finally did. It left an imprint on my soul.  I want to write books like this – ones that will haunt my readers for years after they put the book down.

Write Whatever

I’ve had a lot of trouble writing my current WIP.  I feel like I’ve been working on it forever, but I don’t know where the plot is going.  I don’t know how to write a contemporary, I don’t know what the stakes are, and I just feel burned-out when I try to work on it.  I’ve just felt blehhhh every time I sat down to write.  I’d open the world document and just stare at the screen, unable to lift a finger.

So.  That’s fine.  Sometimes, stories do that to us.  Sometimes, they are just persnickety and don’t want to be written.

The important, thing however, is to not stop writing.  If one story isn’t working, and you’ve taken some time off to read and think, and you come back to it, and it’s still not working, (and you’ve repeated this ad nauseum) then it’s time to write something else.

Write something different for a while.  Have another novel you’re writing?  Work on that.  Have something you should be editing?  Work on that.  Want to play around with poetry?  Do it!  Have a song you want to write?  Write it!  It doesn’t matter.  Write short stories, write blog posts, write poetry – heck, if you want to, even write fanfiction.  Do whatever it takes to get your creative-gears moving again.

Sometimes when I hit a wall in a project, my instinct is to just sit and stare at the wall.  And complain about the wall.  And study the wall.  And write blog posts about the wall.  But maybe what I need to be doing instead is writing a different project for a while.

Does that mean I’m totally abandoning this project that I’ve spent so much time working on?  Probably not.  But I’m just not going anywhere with it right now.  So let’s go somewhere else instead.

Which leads me to my other point for today: write what excites you.  I write to escape, to go to a world that I love, to meet people that only exist in my head.  I write for fun, for adventure.  And the novel I was trying to write doesn’t have any adventures.

So, I’m writing other stuff.  I’ve written some really fun fanfiction.  I’ve written some short blurbs and beginnings of stories.  And now I’m working on re-writing/ finishing/ installing a plot into an old novel that I adore and want to breathe life into.  And for the first time in many weeks, I’m excited about writing.  I’m excited to be returning to this other story, to this other world.  It’s a bit daunting, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had with a WIP in a long time.

Let your imagination run wild.  Write whatever the heck you want to.  Adventure awaits.

adventure is out there!

 

Romeo and Writing

Sorry I’ve been MIA for a while. Life’s been a little crazy. Anyways.

Last semester, in my Creative Writing class, we read through A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.  This one section we read really stuck out to me:

quotation-marks

If Romeo and Juliet had made their appointments to meet, in the moonlight-swept orchard, in all the peril and sweetness of conspiracy, and then more often than not failed to meet — one or the other lagging, or afraid, or busy elsewhere — there would have been no romance, no passion, none of the drama for which we remember and celebrate them. Writing… is not so different—it is a kind of possible love affair between something like the heart (that courageous but also shy factory of emotion) and the learned skills of the conscious mind. They make appointments with each other, and keep them, and something begins to happen. Or, they make appointments with each other but are casual and often fail to keep them: count on it, nothing happens.

-Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

This is So. Darn. True.  If we don’t respond when our story asks to be written, it will eventually stop asking.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll get this “text message buzz” in the middle of my chest (figuratively, not literally) when I need to write.  There’ll be this nagging voice saying “sit down and type!

And here’s the thing: the more I listen to it, the louder it gets, and the easier it is to write. And the more I ignore it, the less I am compelled to write.

There’s a big discussion in the Writing Community about the soundness of the advice “write every day.”  And while this advice is clearly not practical for everyone, the idea behind it is solid: writing should be a habit.  It should be done frequently.  It should be a priority (as much as it’s in your control to make it so).

I don’t want to be casual about my writing.  I want to treat it like it’s important.

But sometimes, I’ll run into this issue: I’ll think about writing and then go, “nah, I’m not feeling the inspiration today.  Maybe tomorrow.”  But the fault with that argument is that inspiration is fickle, unreliable.  It’s fleeting, here one day and gone the next.

I don’t need more inspiration for my writing.  I need more commitment.

I’ll leave you with another quote, this one by Lin-Manuel Miranda (via his twitter feed).

quotation-marks

And now, a daydream about inspiration. Inspiration is EXACTLY like getting a star in Super Mario Bros. Exciting, and super rare. You’re invincible for a short time. The rest of your time you’re breaking bricks, you’re navigating pitfalls, you’re living and dying. You’re doing the work. Star mode is not a substitute for skill, but if you do the work, you can maximize it when it appears. So I wish you star mode. And I wish you lots of hard work so that you know what to do with it when it strikes. That is all.”

mario

 

Defacing Books

Today we’re taking a break from talking about writing to talk about my NEXT favorite topic: reading.  I’m about to open a can of worms with this subject, so let me go ahead say it: I deface books.

Yep.  I underline, circle, write in, draw in, and occasionally dog-ear my books.

Some Disclaimers.

First off, let me say this: I only write in books that I own.  Second, I always leave them readable.  My defacing efforts never hide the words on the page; I want to be able to re-read the books I mark up.

My Story About Defacing Books.

I grew up as a book purist; books were to be treated with respect – partially because I got most of my books from the library.  Occasionally I would underline something in a novel I owned, but JUST IN PENCIL, and I’d be super careful.  You didn’t break spines, you didn’t let books get dog-eared.

Then last year, two things happened:

  1. I was high school student without a ton of money to spare, so I started buying used books.  This meant that now my selves were filled with pre-loved editions, so “shiny covers all in a row” stopped being a reality.  I made my peace with used books, and never looked back.
  2. I watched this video of a BookTuber, and was blown away:

 

I watched that video, and my jaw fell open.  She hadn’t RUINED her book – she had made it into a work of art.  Around this time, I was starting to read the Hamilton Biography by Ron Chernov (you know, the gigantic book that inspired Hamilton, the Broadway musical).  And I decided… that I wanted to write in this book.

I’m not done with it yet, but I’m about half way through and I’ve been having the time of my life getting to doodle all over those wide margins.  Also, Chernov has a way with words that makes it really fun to write out some of his phrases.

Soon I started on other books.  Now I’ve written in a handful, but so far I’m only writing in certain books – ones that mean a lot to me.  Ones that I want to turn into works of art, ones with humor I want to underline for future reference, ones that have touched my soul. For example, I’ve tabbed my favorite parts of The Fault in Our Stars, because it’s a book I quote a lot and I want to be able to find my favorite quotes more easily.

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The other book I started to deface is my edition of the Narnia Books.  (It’s a 7-in-1 hardback edition that is really nice.)  Here’s some of what I’ve done:

Dispelling Some Haters.

I can hear the Book Purists.  NOOOOO, you can’t abuse your books like that!

But what is the purpose of books?  Is it for them to look pretty on our shelves, or is it for them to fill our soul with hope and happiness?  Now, there’s nothing wrong per say about having shiny bookshelves, but in the age of BookTube and Bookstagram – where we follow people with hundreds of books in pristine rows on their dark shelves, almost like a mini Barnes and Nobel – I think we as an online Bookreading Community have put too much value on the appearance of books.

What I’ve Learned.

The first thing that I’ve learned is that it’s okay to “abuse” my books.  I now crack spines for easier reading.  I drink coffee and eat snacks around my books.  I take them places, and don’t care if the cover gets a little bent.  Every bent page, or tear stain, or crack in the spine, is a reminder of where that book has been.  It picks up a history of its own, and I think that’s beautiful.

I’ve also learned that I absolutely love this.  I love getting to combine reading with creating.  I love getting to make these books my own, and getting to turn them into works of art.  Sometimes I make mistakes, but that’s okay and I keep telling myself that it’s okay because it is.  It’s a learning process.  Also, I often date the pages that I mark up, so Future Beth can see how long it took to read a book, or when I drew that picture.  I really like getting to do that to capture my experience.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to play around with different pens and pencils and figure out what I like best.  I’ve tried black pens, blue pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and I love getting to discover what I like best or what works best for that book.  Right now I’m using a silver pen to mark up the Mortal Instruments series, and I adore the shiny, non-intrusive nature of the silver ink.

If you’re still reading all the way down here, then congrats!  Extremely long blog post is over.  I have one picture left to leave you, and it’s the cover of my Narnia hardback, which I drew with a silver marker and pen.  I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

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So let me know your thoughts on defacing books.  Are you a Purist, who can’t even stand to crack the spines of their books?  Are you someone who takes their books on airplanes and to dinner and gets coffee stains on the pages?

Let me close with one last thought.  Say that someday, I’m a published author, and I’m doing Book Signings somewhere.  And amid the crowd, the noise, the people, someone brings me their well-loved and maybe even marked up edition of the book that I wrote?  WOW.  That would mean the world to me.