How much is too much writing?

I think for me,  a day of rest may not be a bad idea.  Of course rest would include laundry, cleaning the house, etc.  (and the requisite America’s Next Top Model Marathon).  I had high hopes at the beginning of this month with my FIVE HOURS A DAY goal… it’s not that I’m giving up…   far from it!  So far this month I’ve added 35 pages to my dissertation (that’s over 11,000 words people!), drafted three poems, read two books I needed to read, hung out with my cousin in Portland and saw Nari Kirk get married (wearing the most fabulous shoes I’ve ever seen).

Admittedly the Portland / Nari wedding thing  didn’t really get me anywhere near my 5 hours per day goal of writing, but it was good for my soul.  So I’m quite happy with the time I spent there.  Instead, I will keep re-thinking this writing goal thing and how to make it work for me.

The reality is that I’m using this March as a springboard for a writing life, not just as way to get a ton of work done this March.

What? you’re getting your MFA! you may be saying.  Didn’t you already commit to a writing life?

Um. sort of.  You see I always had this plan, that I would go back to my job full-time after the MFA.  Kinda pick up my life where I left it…  but like my granddad used to say about the stock market, “It fluctuates!”  In other words, things change.  You can read about it over on my personal blog, but the bottom line is, I no longer have a job to go back to. So, I need to make this writing thing work in some way, make this commitment, and completely follow through with the change I initiated when I decided to come to graduate school.

My first post here was about not beating yourmyself up.  It’s okay to make adjustments, re-vision your goal.  Rather than give up, give your goal a tweak!

So now that we’re in the homestretch of this Writers’ March, I think I’ll add that for me the goals need to be not only attainable, but sustainable.  Maybe once I have a job 5 hours of writing a day is going to be too much (unless I give up completely watching reality t.v. re-runs) but I’ll have to reassess when I get there.

And so I will sign off and leave you with today’s Attitude is Everything Card:

Take a Minute….

On my desk I keep a deck of cards.  Not your ordinary deck, but rather “Attitude is Everything” cards. **  Each card has a motivational message about being positive on the front and a kind of mantra on the back.  Sounds hokey, I know, but if you’re like me, it’s super easy to be negative. I don’t know why that is, but it is true for me.  Keeping a positive attitude is a conscious effort. I’m not always successful, but I keep trying.

Hopefully I’m getting better at it.

What does this have to do with writing? I can hear you saying as you scratch your head.

The more I write, the more I find that writing is actually a metaphor for life… or maybe Life is a metaphor for writing. I’m not sure.  Anyway, last week I met with my dissertation advisor.  I told him about our Writers March group, and no big surprise, he approves whole heartedly.  I told him my goal was to write five hours a day…   he was suitably impressed, then asked, practical man that he is, “So what happens if you don’t do five hours a day?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I do better the next day.”

As the words came out of my mouth it was almost as if someone else was talking.  That statement represents a big change for me.  Part of that not beating myself up stuff I wrote about at the beginning of the month.

And so, as I head off to Portland to witness the nuptials of my friend, and recent MFA grad Nari–  and visit my cousin Katie Spain (the fabulously talented artist), I suspect the five hours a day won’t be happening.  I am taking my computer, I am taking two books and I do plan on writing.  But I’m also planning on taking the advice (with a little writerly license) on today’s Attitude is Everything card:

Take a minute to think about all the positive things in your life.

Mantra:  I count my blessings and name them one by one. I am grateful for what I have [written] and hopeful for what I do not have [but will write over the weekend].

So I hope you’ll take a minute at this midpoint of the month and look at what you’ve accomplished so far.  No matter what, give yourself a pat on the back, take yourself out for an ice cream cone and celebrate!


**looks like the cards are no longer available…  what  a pity

Your (computer) Writing Life

On Saturday I woke up with huge knot in my neck.  I don’t know if I slept funny, or what, but I was stiff.  And I had a full day, no time for massages at fancy day spas…  in fact I would have to wait until Sunday, during my trip to Sunflower Market for grocery shopping before I could do anything about it. You see, there is a Chair Massage -er at Sunflower.   For a dollar a minute, you can jump in the chair and get a quick fix.

I opted for 15 minutes, and asked Sherry to just work on my neck.

“Can you feel that knot?” I asked.

“Oh. yeah.  And this muscle here, ” she said, fingering my Sternocleidomastoid muscles (at least I think that’s what she said).  “I should be able to grab this, and it’s really tight.”

The she started on my shoulders.

“Do you work on the computer a lot?” she asked.

I told her about my writing life, and the five hours a day I’ve committed to…  She told me she could tell, that the muscles at the back of my neck and shoulders were more stretched out (from hunching over a keyboard), and that the ones on the front were tighter.

“You need to stretch!” she said.

Before you start stretching, do a little warmup!

“I do, I take yoga,” I answered, feeling rather smug and proud of myself– I’d been going almost every day for a week now!

“You still need to stretch.  Set a timer for every hour and take a stretch break.”

And so, I  share with you, some neck exercises, and some neck stretches, and a downloadable 1-page hand-out (.pdf) on what to do during a Stretch Break for computer users….

Print it out, and post it by your desk !

So what about that yoga?

Yoga is good for stretching, but it’s also been good for a lot of other things for me and my writing so far this month.  First, it gets me out of the house and adds a little structure to my day, which I find I need.

Second, it’s exercise.  Good for getting the blood moving around the body, and building some strength.  Walking is another good exercise, but with the yoga there are opportunities for building upper body strength, not to mention the core muscles.

Third, I swear, the yoga instructor always says something that sparks an idea or plants a seed of an idea that I can use in my writing, or reminders to be kind to myself (to be in the moment, find the joy in the small things, try).  In fact, this poem I just wrote, called Intervals was inspired by the line “it is in the space between breaths that change occurs.”

Finally, I’m meeting some nice people.  Maybe we’re not becoming best friends through yoga (yet), but it’s nice to see familiar faces, have people say Hi! when you walk in…  and sometimes I even carpool with my friend Amanda, so it’s been nice to have some time to chat with her face to face and not just interacting on Facebook.

And I will finish up this post with these reminders:

  • Stretch!
  • Be Kind to Yourself
  • Take breaks from the computer
  • Write on!!

PS:  if anyone in Albuquerque wants to join me–  I’ve been going to the Tues/Thurs noon time $5 yoga classes at Bhava Yoga (on Central at Walter).

Don’t Beat Yourself UP

I think I’m writing this more for myself than for any of you…  but goals are hard for me. Hard to maintain.  Part of the problem, I think, is that I have to learn to re-define what a goal is.

A GOAL is something we strive towards; it is not a mandate.  A goal should be measured not by completion, but by milestones…  in other words, say you have a goal of, I dunno, writing FIVE HOURS A DAY (what was I thinking??).  And you only write for 3 hours on Day Two.  Maybe three and a half if you count the time spent staring at the computer. What do you do?  My gut response is to let that tape play in my head. The one that says:

“you suck! Day two and you’ve already failed…

YOU are a failure!

You suck!  Really.  A writer?

I think not. “

Looks pretty ridiculous doesn’t it.  I mean three hours is a lot of time writing.  I added almost a thousand words to what I was working on, a piece titled “Seriously Messy Chapter Four” from my dissertation, Reconstructing My Mother.  AND I managed to WRITE an email I’d been putting off, another email to the English Department announcing an upcoming event.  I went to Yoga—for the third day in a row! And I ate a healthy lunch.  I also WROTE a post on my personal blog, and two lines of poetry for an in progress poem called Intervals.  AND I WROTE a post on the UNM Creative Writing Blog, and started WRITING an email newsletter for Duke City DimeStories.

So really all in all a good writing day.

But what does this tell me?

First, maybe I need to “revision” my goal.  I want to be successful, so I’m going to count blogging as writing.  All writing is good, right?  (well maybe not Facebook status updates, but lots of other kinds of writing can count in my new vision of the goal)

Second, I may want to revise my goal. Maybe five hours is too ambitious (I’ll hold off on that decision and see how the rest of the week goes).

What I’m NOT going to do is beat myself up and call myself a failure. Because

“There’s two kinds of people in this world, there’s winners and there’s losers. Okay, you know what the difference is?  Winners don’t give up.” (Richard, from Little Miss Sunshine)

–Jennifer Simpson


PS:  I just wrote for another half hour!  I think I made my five hours after all!

A Writer's Book of Days by Judy ReevesPS 2:  if you need a little inspiration for today, I share today’s prompt from Judy Reeve’s A Writers Book of Days (note I have the previous edition which may be different from this edition, but really valuable none-the-less)

You see a shooting star….