The Meat in the Middle

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From 2011-2012, I had the opportunity to live in England for one year as a writer for a non-profit. It was an incredible opportunity, one of those life-shaping milestones I will never forget. However, during that year, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. I had some challenging times, and especially right in the middle, I remember wondering if I truly had the guts to stick it out and finish the year strong.

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During those middle months, an image came to mind. This is the meat in the sandwich, I thought. The first part of this year was like squishy white bread, glamorous and fun, and the very end will probably feel the same as I prepare to go home, but this is the meat. I am walking through the important stuff right now.

It’s the same with writing. Michael Hyatt refers to it as “the messy middle.” When you’ve set goals and you’re in the process of achieving them, things get real, and things get tough. Anything worth doing is not easy.

In writing, you’ll confront “the messy middle” in a few different ways:

1) Messy Project. This is not a surprise to most, but writing gets messy. We write stuff, we rip it to shreds, we rewrite it, we throw it away and we pull it back out of the trash to start the process again. I am in the mess right now as I am revising my novel. Don’t be afraid of it. The more determined you are to forge into your work, pull it to pieces and confront the problems, the more satisfying the final product will be.

2) Messy Life. In case you haven’t noticed, the world doesn’t stop so you can write. Life is messy and in the midst of the mess, we have to find those small spaces to make art. Besides, when we ignore or try to banish the mess, we are pushing away the very stuff that inspires a lot of our work to begin with.

3) Messy Emotions. You will falter. You will doubt. Guaranteed. As Michael Hyatt says, the most important thing in forging through the messy middle is to hold on to the why. If you have a firm grasp on why you are pursuing the writing life, your will conquers your weakness. Every time.

“Starting is the fun part,” says Hyatt, “But the middle’s where you make it happen.”

This is where it counts in your writing. Don’t give up. How are you forging through the mess in the middle of your writing journey? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!

The Marriage of Inspiration and Hard Work

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Three good resources I wanted to shoot your way on the theme of discipline and inspiration. These two go hand-in-hand for many writers, myself included. Often times, we don’t want to get disciplined until inspiration comes, but often, the inspiration springs from the discipline.

Below is me getting inspired listening to the sounds of nature near my house a few days ago. Not really. My roommate had to explain to me what this was, as I thought it was an old-school gramophone on a pole.

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Anyway, below are a couple blog posts and a video I have found useful in my own creative process. I hope they’re helpful for you, as well.

This was a great guest post by Anthony St Clair on thecreativepenn.com (a fantastic blog, by the way) that talks about forgetting the muse and finding your willpower.

On thewritepractice.com (also another epic writing blog with many valuable contributors), Emily Wenstrom banishes our slavery to inspiration with three great tips: work at the same time consistently, keep an idea log, and create rituals.

Finally, I saw the wonderful Ted talk by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, yes, author of Eat, Pray, Love) called “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” If you haven’t watched it yet, you can do it here. Gilbert is funny, but she also digs into that whole idea of pushing through fear and showing up day after day, regardless of whether the muse comes or not.

That’s it for today!

 

 

 

 

Want to Be a Writer? Give it Time.

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Writing has been difficult lately. The deeper I get into revising my novel, the harder I am having to push myself for words, for fresh creativity, for just connecting those stupid dots that I put into my first draft. There are moments of inspiration, times when I see things coming together, but in general, I just keep showing up every day to bang my head against the wall.

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And my head hurts. I’ve been banging it for awhile, but I’m not giving up. This, right now, is what being a writer is about. To keep showing up, even when it’s not glamorous or exciting. To stay after everyone else packs it in because it’s too tough.

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “Novelists have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetic consultants at Bloomingdale’s department store. Our power is patience. [Writing] is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”

Time. In a culture of instant, time is the one thing I have trouble giving myself as a writer.

And yet, time is what you and I need the most.

Time to perfect the craft. Time to keep showing up morning after morning. Time to read. Time to think. Time to write new pages, hack them to pieces, then patch them back together. If you do not devote the time, you will not experience the breakthroughs, which only have meaning because you’ve been down in the trenches fighting for so long.

Give yourself time. Nobody else will. Our culture will not praise you as you block other things out and commit to slugging out this awful, messy, twisted business of writing. In fact, the culture will pressure you to be distracted by a million other things, but you can’t listen. Saying yes to pursuing the writing life means saying no to other things. Great things.

Want to set yourself apart from the wannabe writers? Then give yourself time, give yourself a game plan, and give yourself permission to be imperfect. I am in a valley right now with my writing, but I keep moving forward because I know that sooner or later, another peak will come.

Are you in a peak or a valley right now on your writing journey? How are you giving yourself time to grow and improve as a writer?

March Reading

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This was my view of the sunrise a couple days ago. I always sit at this table in the corner of the coffee shop when I write. Sometimes, I am treated to views like this.

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Well, the totals are in for the month, and Dad emerged victorious. My dad and I are doing a reading contest which started at the beginning of the year, and we check in monthly, comparing page numbers to find out who’s ahead.

We both read over 1,000 pages in March, so needless to say, things are getting pretty hard core (for us anyway). Reading can be difficult to make time for, and there’s always an excuse to do something else, but honestly, if you want to be a writer, you can’t make it very far without having a serious addiction to the written word.

Here are some handy tips I’ve found to keep the reading habit alive:

1) Set a specific time for it. I read before bed or on my lunch hour. Also, I just make a habit of carrying a book with me everywhere. With e-readers now, it’s easy to have something handy wherever you go. Read in line, read in a waiting room, read when you’re waiting for someone else. Predetermine you will use those unexpected pockets of time not to check social media or email, but to read.

2) Read what you enjoy. I used to put such pressure on myself to read only “practical” or “useful” things, or just “pithy” literature, but I got burned out trying to sustain that. When I gave in to reading what I enjoy, I found my appetite for reading only increased.

3) Mix it up. Bearing #2 in mind above, I also try to keep a healthy rotation going. Weighty books, light books, fat books, thin books, old books, new books, fiction, nonfiction, etc. You get the picture. Keep it fresh, keep it varied.

4) Read with somebody. I don’t just mean read aloud together (although that can also be a terrific experience), but keep each other accountable in your reading. Set some goals. Meet them. Set some new ones. Share the highlights of what you’re reading with each other.

I hope you’re inspired in your reading, and as you continue to devour books, you are fueled in your own writing journey. Are there any books you’ve read lately that you’d recommend? Feel free to share them in the comments below!