Walk, Read, Write

The way I see it, if I can manage to do these 3 things every day, I’m doing alright:

  1. Walk
  2. Read
  3. Write
The first one clears my head. The second two feed me.

I’m not adding any time limits or stipulations. One thing I figured out from 2015 was to be a little kinder to myself. If I just get in a 10-minute walk, a bus ride of reading, a page of prose…that is so much better than nothing.

Full disclosure: I did not finish the second draft of my book by the end of year, like I had planned. And while I’m a bit disappointed (and mostly like OMG WANT TO FINISH THIS STUPID THING), I’m not beating myself up about it. The ending of the book is…rougher than I had remembered. A lot had to be totally scrapped, a lot written anew. The main point is I’ve been working on it, almost every day.

Austin Kleon has a blog post about how we spend our days. Ultimately, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. It may seem small, but focusing on just three things every day adds up.

Last week I was tired. Eyeball-ache tired. I hadn’t slept well, had a 9am meeting I was stressed out about, slept on my neck funny. I farted away my morning writing time on the internet and really didn’t want to walk the dog. But I pulled on my super-stylish safety vest and headed out.

A small sliver of crescent moon hung above the neighbor’s house. Towards the end of the walk, I noticed that the horizon was turning the most vibrant shade of cerulean blue. Only a week ago, it was still pitch black at that time. The days are slowly creeping longer, and I wouldn’t have noticed if I’d stayed inside.

Walk. Read. Write.

I Am a Writer

A few weeks ago I attended a “Winter Salon” at Hedgebrook, a literary nonprofit that supports women writers. I went up for the day, took classes, listened and learned.

I keep trying to describe the day to people and keep falling short. It seems no matter what I say, I can’t accurately describe the feeling there. So I’m going to try again and start small. Very small: pomegranate arils.

Hedgebrook practices what they call radical hospitality: “everything you need to nurture your soul and your creativity.” When we arrived for lunch after our morning classes, shaking our heads dry from the driving rain, we found long tables laid out with real silverware and cloth napkins. Each place setting had a winter salad dotted with pomegranate arils. It can’t just be me — there’s something decadent about those little red jewels. Pomegranates are only in season a short while, and their round, lumpy exteriors always seem such a hurtle to getting the fruit inside. But here they were laid out before us, waiting to burst between our teeth. The rest of lunch was a hearty, comforting affair — chicken soup and tomato soup and squash soup and buttery galette and brownies and gingerbread — but when I picture it in my mind’s eye, those arils are the things I see. Their presence said, “You are welcome.”

After lunch, the teachers talked about women writers supporting women writers — how elevating one elevates all. As the conversation unfolded, I looked around the room. There were writers there, like me, scrambling to figure out a path in this weird, wordy world. There were writers who’ve been published many times over. There were white-haired writers who didn’t care an ounce for the career portion of things — they were there for the love of writing.

The feeling you get at Hedgebrook is one of validation. Here is a place that says, “What you do is important, and we are here to support it.”

I’m lucky — so lucky – to have people in my life who take my writing seriously. My husband helps me carve out time and space to write. My parents always ask how the book’s going (usually with a kick-in-the-pants from my dad). My best friend encouraged me to start this blog.

Sometimes I’m not sure I take it seriously. Don’t get me wrong — I work hard. I get up early and write and I participate in writing group and I spend time (and money) to attend workshops. But when people ask me about my work — I stutter. I stammer. I mutter something innocuous and turn the conversation. I don’t feel like a “real” writer because I’ve never had my name in print. It doesn’t pay the bills. It feels like a hobby, something done in secret.

My afternoon class at Hedgebrook was with a writer named Ijeoma Oluo. Something she said has been rolling around my head for the past week and a half:

“It takes a lot for people to call themselves writers. You just can.”

So I’m trying to embrace that.

I am a writer.

To that end–I’m changing the name of this blog, to my name. I’m not hiding behind a nom de plume anymore. You can find it now at ldoxford.com.

I am a writer. These are my stories.

 

Laura’s New Writing Plan

It’s like Kanye’s plan, but with a lot less crop tops and a lot more word count.

Like I mentioned in last week’s post — I haven’t been writing much lately. I’ve gotten out a few short stories that I feel good about, but what I REALLY need to be doing is editing the 2nd draft of my book. I’ve puttered away at it, but haven’t succeeded at getting down to business.

I know I work better with structure. I need deadlines. But sometimes creating those for yourself… the motivation, it’s lacking.

Last week my friend Jay introduced me to a site called Pacemaker. In a nutshell: you put in your writing goals and deadlines, and Pacemaker spits out a plan. The exact number of words per day you need to write (or edit) in order to hit your goal.

So I thought… what would it look like if I made a goal to finish the 2nd draft by the end of this year?

And you know, it’s not too shabby.

Pacemaker Writing Calendar

About 550 words on the weekdays. A little over 1,000 on the weekends. December looks the same. Totally doable. And I’m doing it.

As you can see, I’ve already missed one day–but that’s ok. Not beating myself up over it. I made it up on the weekend, so we’re still on track.

Breaking it down day by day, word by word, makes the goal look much more reasonable. More attainable. 550 words a day doesn’t seem scary. (On a good day, I can get that done in the morning before leaving for work.) The vision of having that 2nd draft printed up and piled up on my desk — it’s taking shape.

You just have to start. One word at a time.

Blog Hiatus

I mean, the title kind of says it all, right? But I’ll spell it out a bit more: I’ve decided to take a hiatus from this blog. Starting now. For an undetermined amount of time.

It’s been mulling around my head for a while, this idea of taking a break, but I’ve been loathe to do it because… well, I like writing this blog. I like having a space to air my nerdy writer ways, my book habits, my little adventures. I like talking with fellow writers and readers and adventurers. Thanks to the encouragement of my best friend, I started Buffalo Writes two years ago and haven’t regretted a minute of it.

The fact is I have too much on my plate right now, between work and editing my book and beginning a new writing project. (OH YES, a new project. Because I’m apparently a masochist. But it involves a 98-year-old, and that’s not the kind of thing you press pause on.)

At first I thought, “Well, I’ll just update the blog less frequently.” Which worked for a while. But still the thoughts lurk in the back of my brain… what’s your next post going to be? When is it going to be? Should you give an update on writing? On what you’ve been reading? What have you been looking at lately? Even with less frequent postings, the blog still takes up brain space. And that’s what I need to free up.

This is not the end. It’s just a breath.

Intentions

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions and intentions. I feel like I let myself down in 2014. I wanted to run 300 miles – I didn’t make half that. I wanted to finish my revisions – yeah, we know how that went. Most of all, I let myself get derailed by day-to-day life. The blinders of the everyday shuffle never came off. I lost sight of my goals.

I want to get back to myself. I want to reconnect with my body and my goals. But importantly – I don’t want to be too hard on myself. I want to push myself, yes. I want to set goals and achieve them. But I want to listen and do what feels right. Give myself permission to forget all the rest.

I’ve been writing again. I’ve been sinking into books. I’ve started running in the mornings, adding in some yoga videos. I’m working on finding balance.

I haven’t figured it out yet. But I will figure it out.

 

30/30 Wrap-Up

Well, it’s done.

Image from Don't Break the Chain.
Image from Don’t Break the Chain!

I wrote for 30 minutes for 30 days, each and every day. Through some very generous donations, I raised $110 for Seattle’s Hugo House.

I’m not gonna lie, the past week and a half were tough. We were traveling, there were work events, and then — icing on the cake — Byron and I both caught the cold from hell. Multiple days I thought, “I could just skip today. No one would know.” Except I would know, and I would feel guilty, so I sat down for the 30 minutes anyway. Maybe fever-dream writing will be the pinnacle of my book.

Mostly now, I want a break. I want a nap and a day where I don’t think about writing at all. (It is highly likely this is the residual sickness talking. But it’s still how I feel.)

Still… in the past 30 days, I’ve edited 89 pages of my book (89 single-spaced pages, to boot). That’s a little over 45,000 words. That’s a hell of a lot more than I’ve gotten done in the past several months. All from just sitting down for 30 minutes a day.

I’d like to keep this up. Habits are hard to make and easy to break, so I should keep it up. The lesson learned through this whole thing is that it’s entirely possible to prioritize your writing if you make it a priority.

 

30/30 Check-In

Here we are, day 15 of my 30/30 Writing Challenge — writing for 30 minutes a day for 30 days to raise money for Seattle’s Hugo House. I’m proud to report that so far I haven’t missed a single day, even though some days were like pulling teeth. A brief check-in, then, on lessons learned from the challenge thus far.

(Oh, and a reminder — the whole “point” of this, aside from creating good writing habits, is to raise money for the awesome Hugo House. If you’re so inclined, you can donate here.)

Lesson #1: It is much, much easier than it sounds like to get in 30 minutes of writing a day. I admit to being a little bit daunted by the number, especially considering how my writing schedule had been going recently. But once you commit to it… you guys, there are 30-minute chunks everywhere. In the morning before work, on your lunch break, while dinner’s cooking. I knew it before, but this has just highlighted the fact — the time is there, if you prioritize. (And here’s the usual caveat how I don’t have kids, I’m sure it’s harder with kids, but you know — same general theory still applies.)

Lesson #2: Earlier is better. Again, this is something I already knew (are you seeing a theme here?). Last year, while finishing the first draft of my book, I got up early every morning to get the time in. Now, I find myself returning to that schedule. There have been two days where I skipped the morning, thinking “Oh, I’ll have time to write later.” Both times, it bit me in the ass. Days have a way of spiraling out of control. The earlier you can check off the writing, the better. Plus, then you have the benefit of already having accomplished something with your day, before it’s even really started. (I find this true with running, too.) I love being able to head into work and think, “No matter what else happens today, I already accomplished this.”

Lesson #3: Getting up early sucks. Look, it just does. Maybe not for some people, but every time that damn alarm clock goes off, I want to smash it over the head and go back to sleep. Instead, I turn it off and roll my sorry butt out of bed. (Related tangent: my dad hated his childhood alarm clock so much that he saved it and, as an adult, used it for target practice. Early-morning dislike, it runs in the family.)

Lesson #4: If you work consistently, you get shit done. 30 minutes a day adds up. Prior to this, I had edited 3 chapters of my book. Now I’m up to 7. It took me 15 days to make that leap. Admittedly, the editing is getting easier the further I go (ooph, the beginning of the book was rough, you guys). But this rapid accumulation is an obvious result of sitting down and working.

Lesson #5: It’s about priorities. Lauren at I’m Better in Real Life wrote a great blog post about writing seasons. It’s a reality of life that, over time, priorities shift. You expend more energy in one facet of your life than another. I’m prioritize my writing right now — which means, yes, some other things may drop off a little bit — and that’s ok.

At this point, I’m thinking I may continue the 30 minutes a day, even after the 30/30 Challenge is done. Which, I mean — we’ll see. It’s still early days. I’m halfway there. But really, there’s no downside. Whatever you do, whether it’s writing or coding or creating whatever, consistent work habits are key.

The 30/30 Writing Challenge

So, here’s roughly how this went down.

Last week, a group of coworkers and I journeyed up Capitol Hill to attend the Cheap Bear & Prose night at Hugo House. Hugo House, in their own words, “is for writers.” Seattle is a bookish city, and nonprofit Hugo House is one of its most awesome literary enclaves. Named after local poet Richard Hugo, they provide classes, workshops, free events… essentially a hub and supporter for a zillion and two literary happenings. I only recently started attending their events myself, and was so pleasantly surprised by the amazing environment I found there.

Cheap Bear & Prose night was a ton of fun — good people, good writing. I left the evening feeling excited about the great work I’d just heard… and also disappointed. Disappointed in myself for not taking my writing more seriously, for not pushing myself harder, for not being active in the larger literary community. I resolved to remedy that last bit by attending more events and classes at places like Hugo House.

The next morning, I hopped on Hugo House’s website to check out their class listings. And right there on their homepage was the 30/30 Writing Challenge — a fundraising challenge. The idea is this: people write for 30 minutes each and every day for 30 days and raise money for Hugo House. Simple enough. The next challenge was starting October 1.

“That’s a cool idea,” I thought, and moved on with my day.

I went on with my week, my weekend. On September 30 I got an email reminder about signing up for the challenge. “Oh yeah,” I thought, and ignored the email.

And then yesterday, on October 1, I woke up and — essentially on a whim — signed up for the challenge in about 5 minutes.

That’s how I typically sign up for stuff like this — in a flash, on a whim, because otherwise I might over-think it and back down. It scares me a little to commit to this — it feels a bit like going down the NaNoWriMo hole — but it feels right. In the past several months I’ve grown apathetic towards my writing, and I need a kick in the pants to change that. Plus, I believe in what Hugo House stands for. If I can raise some money for a great organization and ALSO get my writing time in? Win win.

I’ll be keeping track of my progress here on the blog (check the right-hand column), using Jerry Seinfeld’s Chain method. I figure if I make it public, there’s more accountability. And if you’re so inclined…

Donate Now

Ok. 30 minutes down. 29 more days to go.

 

Unfocused

Like any born-and-bred American, road trips are in my DNA. Growing up, they were an integral part of family vacations. We never did any truly epic routes — the longest was Seattle to Santa Monica, with a $20 bribe on the line if my sister and I refrained from asking “Are we there yet?” — but there were numerous shorter trips. Bellingham, Oregon, Idaho. The Pacific Northwest was well-explored from the confines of an ’89 Honda Civic.

My parents were pros: a white plastic bucket sat in the middle seat between my sister and I, filled with entertainment. Most of the goodies were designed to draw our eyes outward, past the car window and to the world beyond. License plate bingo, “I Spy”, plastic-coated maps and dry erase markers so we could mark our progress. Inevitably, though, our eyes left the windows and turned to our laps.

“Stop reading,” Dad would say. “Put your book down and look out the window. You’re missing it.”

A terrible problem to have, a child who reads too much. We raised our eyes back to the world , but after a respectful amount of time — after we thought we could get away with it — it was back to the books.

Of course, the problem was that my sister and I were young, and we still had that capacity only truly understood by the young: boredom. Looking out the window was boring. The trees whipping by all looked the same — or maybe there were different, but it took far too long for them to change. Rocks, grass, dirt — we had all of this back home. Looking out the window, there was nothing to do but get lost in your own thoughts. My brain wanted focus.

In adulthood, there’s more than enough to occupy your thoughts. Boredom becomes a concept rather than an actual practice. Nowhere is this more obvious than on a road trip, when you’re confined to a small space with limited resources for hours on end. If you’re lucky enough to be in a stretch of the country that defies cell phone towers, you’re disconnected from internet, too. I now find myself sitting for hours, doing nothing but look out the window. What once would induce boredom brings on something new and foreign; you become unfocused. Not in the way we’re accustomed to in the digital world — not in the way of emails to be sorted through, of pings and dings to pay attention to, of I swear I was about to do something now what was it? That is frantic — a forced unfocus.

This is gradual, natural, a slow progression after days on the road. The smell of pelicans, the sun burning against an SPFed thigh. The very conscious movement of wind over skin, thick and strong as a wave drawn back to the ocean. The uncomfortable yet comforting thought that this will all be here, after we’re gone — changed, changing, but still here. The sea today will not be the same one we see tomorrow.

Of course this doesn’t appeal to a child, who lives in the present and feels acutely the whole wonder of the world. They have no need to gaze for hours at nothing in order to see everything.

Back off the road now, no more transience, I feel myself coming back into focus — edges sharpening, the line between body and air growing clear. Focus is good — it’s necessary to function in our daily lives. But I close my eyes and see the shimmer of air on skin, feel my mind slip loose and drift. We see clearer for being unfocused. Every once in a while it’s good to wander.

 

Desert Memos: A Mini Travelogue

When you think of Washington state, what do you think of? Coffee, Amazon, Nirvana? Lots of trees and rain? Washington IS all these things… but there’s another side, too.

Columbia River at George, Washington - Buffalo Writes

The eastern half of Washington state? Pretty much all desert. Well, ok. TECHNICALLY not desert. But compared to Seattle’s maritime qualities — yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and call it how I see it.

A collection of yurts in the middle of a desert winery. Glamping at its best. Adirondacks and wine and tawny rabbits nibbling on sage. Twenty feet from your door, the descent to the bottom of a gorge — the river below receded, hexagonal tiles baked into the dried mud. And wouldn’t you know it, down here with the lizards and the snakes and the cactus flowers, sits one beat up desk, gradually becoming the desert. The office-supply life, it follows you everywhere.

At the start and end of summer, a lot of Seattleites hop over the mountains and drink up some of the eastern Washington sunshine — summer starts earlier and ends later over there. In May, my friend Hen and I did just that. We spent only 2 days in and around George, Washington, but it was enough to once again become totally smitten with the landscape. And when I got home, I was temporarily possessed by Barry Lopez.

Everything feels new and familiar and BIG. The vast space opens your brain and invites you to float from one thought to the next until you settle like pink dusk in the night. Record the thoughts acquired during such downtime, such non-thinking. Sift through them later, see what you find. Back to reality, desert memories rest heavy on the brain.

Alright alright, maybe I wasn’t possessed — maybe I just read Desert Notes and was inspired. Either way, I wrote up a little something — an experimental piece, very unlike my usual stuff. I’ll leave the dreamy landscape writing to Mr. Lopez in the future, but it was fun to try my hand on it.

You can check out the full deal over at RAD AND HUNGRY’s blog (or hey, if you’re on Medium, it’s there, too).

Columbia Gorge at George, Washington - Buffalo Writes