Drawing Inspiration from Nature

My second office

For as long as I can remember I have craved deep greens and muddy browns. I’ve often escaped to natural environments to write, or to read over my writing. I am soothed by trees, bolstered by the earth, and draw inspiration from breathing clean, fresh, mulchy air.

I have favorite spots I escape to, places where the phone won’t ring (sometimes there’s not even cell reception) and where piles of papers won’t grab at my attention.

I once fled to Palomar Mountain in San Diego County, pitched my tent, and promised myself I wouldn’t leave until I’d gotten the upper hand on the chapter I was struggling with. (I stayed a week, but I descended the mountain triumphant, the completed chapter tucked under my arm.) Yes . . . I wrote longhand for a week in that campground void of electricity.

Now I sometimes escape to nature to take a break from writing. But, still, it raises the water table of my creative juices, keeps the well from running dry.

I’ve come to call these spots my “Second Office.” They’re free of rent, and they free my mind.

(Also check out these earlier posts: Go on a Writing Retreat to Kick Your Writing into High Gear and Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat.)

I invite you to share some stories or images of your own writing (or creative-well replenishing) escapes.

My other second office

Have a Question about Writing You’d Like Me to Answer?

If you have a question about writing, and you think the answer might benefit others as well, please send me an email at Nomi.theWriteCoach(at)gmail.com, and I’ll set to work on a blog post that answers your question. (It’ll be kind of like you’re giving me a writing prompt and benefiting from what I come up with!) If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to find you some resources where you can find the answer.

Then, keep your eyes open for my response (in the form of a blog entry)!

It gives me great joy to share what I’ve learned about the craft of writing over my 20 + years as a book editor, writer, and writing coach.

I look forward to hearing from you.

I’m all ears.

Love That Deadline

It’s true.  I do.  I love deadlines.

Not that I always love the date attached to the deadline. But no deadline at all is not the writer’s heaven I used to think it was.

I learned early on to work with a contract, even when it wasn’t generated in-house. If I did some work for an individual author or writer, I’d draw up my own contract. I was slower to learn about the value of including a deadline in that document. I wrote a beautiful contract once, covered all bases, got contract advice from the wonderful National Writers Union (NWU: consider joining!), and presented my document to the author I would be writing for. He requested a few changes to the contract, which I made . . . but he said nothing about the absence of a deadline. Woo hoo! Was I a clever girl! I had squirreled out from under the dreaded deadline pressure—which I was sure would squash my creativity. I could now write in peace. I could craft a masterpiece. I was blessed.

. . . until a year into the project, when the book manuscript was not done and I’d run out of money. I now had work I owed someone and more work I needed to take on to pay the rent.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t been writing during that year. I’d been writing every day, loving life. But I hadn’t been focused on the manuscript’s finish line . . . because there wasn’t one. I would get there when the manuscript was complete. Completion was my finish line. But I’d forgotten to take into consideration how long my funds would last.

A painful lesson learned. Now I love deadlines.

Besides, if you have a deadline, you are one of the lucky ones—a writer or editor with a job or a project. It is cause for celebration. And if your deadline is not externally imposed, then you are one of the disciplined ones. Also cause for celebration.

How about you? Do you love that deadline? (We’d love to hear your experiences—the good, the bad, the ugly!)

Recipe for a Non-Writing Retreat

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If you find yourself hitting the wall with a writing project, you can’t figure out what comes next in a scene or chapter, or you’re just too dang close to a project to know whether it’s any good or not, try this recipe for a non-writing retreat.

Ingredients

  • Fresh figs
  • Dark chocolate
  • Art supplies
  • Good climbing shoes
  • One large tree

Choose a serene spot with at least one large, accessible tree. I find the most effective is a location with very few, if any, other humans.

Place your brain to the side. (You will need this later when the retreat is over.) Put on your climbing shoes (I like Five-Finger shoes because they give you sticky-monkey-feet, but sneakers are good too. Bare feet work in a pinch).

If there is more than one tree in your chosen location, select the tree that calls to you the most. One way to discern which tree is calling is to approach each tree one by one and place your palms flat against the trunk. When you become aware of your heart, you know you’ve found your tree. Sometimes I feel a strengthened connection between my palms and my heart. All of this may be subtle, so take your time and listen with your whole body.

Once you’ve chosen your tree, proceed to climb it. You don’t have to be a daredevil climber to reap the benefits of tree climbing.  Even sitting on a low branch with your feet swinging a foot above the forest floor will provide you with the core benefit of your non-writing retreat.

For the most effective tree-sitting experience, find a limb or large branch that you can align with your sternum. Gently press your sternum against the branch or limb. One of my favorite ways to do this is to lie belly down along a large horizontal or near-horizontal limb. Alternately, you can align the limb or branch with the “back door to your heart” (this is the spot between your shoulder blades roughly opposite your sternum, or your heart). The gentle pressure vertically along your sternum or between your shoulder blades will allow the grounding energy of the tree to flow into your body, resetting your nervous system. (Note: The author has done no research to back up this statement. Neither is it FDA approved.)

Once you’re in a comfortable position, turn flame to low and simmer. Allow your gaze to settle on various aspects of the natural habitat you now find yourself in. Let your gaze soften and focus inward. Do you feel your energy shifting? What other senses are you aware of? What is the temperature of the air on your skin? Is there a breeze? Do you notice any sounds, textures, or smells? (If you smell tuna casserole, you haven’t gone far enough out into nature.)

As you sit or lie in the tree, you will likely feel your body relax (unless you’re afraid of heights). You may even become drowsy. In this subdued state you may notice creative ideas begin to bubble. Note: If you haven’t been out of the city for a while or you’ve been working particularly long hours, you may need to allow for a preliminary period of thought-slowing before your body begins to relax.

You’ll know you’re done with the tree-lounging portion of your retreat when you’ve got so many creative ideas bubbling up that you can’t sit still any longer or, alternately, when the ants that were streaming along the tree trunk are now streaming through your pants.

Climb down.

I like to thank the tree for the nurturing energy by placing my palms once again flat against the trunk. (If any of this sounds like nonsense to you, by all means skip the nonsensical parts! No reason to do empty rituals. But if you’re open to it, I invite you to suspend disbelief for a moment and at least try it out for yourself. If you’ve followed the recipe so far, there’s no one around to see you do it.) Another powerful touch point is the lips. Gently touch your lips to the bark of the tree and feel the energetic connection to your heart. (There’s a reason kissing is done with the lips!)

Now you can start on the art project you’ve brought along. If you haven’t brought along an art project, take a walk around your selected location and find some natural elements that speak to you—twigs, stones, grasses, whatever appeals to your senses. Now arrange them on the ground or in a tree or bush in a manner that’s pleasing to you.

And don’t forget about the fresh figs and dark chocolate (or whatever sensual foods you prefer). When you eat them, try closing your eyes and really pay attention to the smell and taste of the foods.

Note: Although the point of this retreat is to take a break from writing . . . it may very well trigger some writing ideas. So you might want to bring along a notebook and pen, just in case.

Oh, and don’t forget to gather up your brain before you drive home.Image

A Writers’ Poll: How much do you write a day?

When I was growing up, sitting under my mom’s desk to play, comforted by the resounding tap, tap, tap of her manual typewriter, and then later shut out of her writing den so she could concentrate, I thought it was normal for a writer to write for hours and hours on end. My mom woke up and got to work by 5 or 6 in the morning and she didn’t leave her typewriter, and then later her computer, until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.

That’s eight hours of writing!

When I began to write (after years of resisting being a writer, since I figured one was enough for one family), I found that my normal rhythm was about three or four hours a day. And when I tried to write more, I was utterly exhausted after five hours. What’s up with that? Although I didn’t fall far from the tree, I did seem to be a completely different kind of apple.

We were in many ways two very different writers. My mom wrote stage plays and television screenplays; I write fiction and memoir. My mom’s work was plot and dialogue driven. My work is very visual (though I do write good dialogue too; thanks, Mom). My mom wrote from the outside in—getting the concept and perhaps the structure in place first, and often not getting to the emotional content until later drafts. I tend to write from the inside out, spilling my guts onto the page and then muddling my way to finding some sort of plot.

Is our difference in style what made it harder for me to write longer than 3 or 4 hours? Or was it just that my mom was a bit of a powerhouse-superwoman-wordsmith? I mean, the woman only needed to 3 to 5 hours of sleep.

Well, when I recently began writing a book on a deadline, I found that suddenly I was writing five, six, seven hours a day! One day, I even wrote for eight. And I didn’t even feel exhausted . . . well, maybe a little. But I also felt exhilarated.

The mighty deadline has pushed me through the glass ceiling. Perhaps that was the difference all along. My mom wrote on deadline for years. Or . . . maybe my mom’s lovely spirit has been hanging around helping me out.

In any case, with that triumph in my back pocket, I still cherish the lovely writer’s day that goes like this: write in the morning; nap and then exercise in the afternoon; socialize in the evening. Perhaps one day I’ll get to write that way again.

In the end, there is no right number of hours for everyone. Virginia Woolf, I have heard, wrote for one hour a day. Stephen King supposedly writes ten pages each and every day (a lot of writing! Anyone know how long that takes him?). Many, many writers claim the 3–5 hour a day rule.

How much do you write a day? Do you shoot for hours or word count? Please tell us how you write n’ roll.

Go on a Writing Retreat to Kick Your Writing into High Gear

Late July 2012: Nomi heads for the hills to write (near Mariposa, California).
Can you spot my writing companion? (Thank you, Barbara, for hosting my retreat!)

Are piles of paperwork, screaming kids, and day-to-day responsibilities keeping you from your writing? One thing that has always helped me get back on track with a project is to get out of town.

Before I wrote on the computer, I loved going camping to write. (Yes, I used to write my first draft longhand!) One time, when I was having difficulty with a particular chapter, I went to Palomar Mountain (San Diego County). I set up my tent and made myself a promise that I wouldn’t leave the mountain until I had finished the chapter. I didn’t care how long it took. I ended up staying a full week but I headed down the mountain with a finished chapter tucked under my arm.

If cost is a concern (and you’re not the camping type), think about whether you have a friend in the boonies with a guest cottage or perhaps you know someone who needs a house sitter. Another possibility is a retreat center; some spiritual retreat centers are quite affordable.

It’s important that you go somewhere where there’s not a lot of cultural diversion (i.e., New York City is probably not the most conducive to a focused retreat). If there’s a choice of a room with no T.V., go for it and dive into your written world.

If you’ve done a writing retreat, please comment and tell us about it!

Distracted? Write in Bed.

“First I have to feed the cat,” I said when my mentor told me to write first thing when I got up in the morning.

“OK, so feed the cat. Then write,” she told me.

“But once I go downstairs to feed the cat, I get distracted.” (There were a myriad diversions downstairs—email, roommate, watering the garden, scrubbing the grout in the kitchen tiles.) This was a few years back and I was following a program of writing 30 minutes a day . . . period. (See my post “The Timer Is Your Friend.”)

The next thing my mentor said delighted me as much as it surprised me.

“Write in bed,” she said.

I loved getting advice from another writer. No one but a writer could come up with something so entirely decadent. Truth is, it was equal parts decadent and logical. You’re distracted once you get up + you have a laptop = write in bed. Of course!

So, for the next few months when I went upstairs at bedtime I took with me my laptop and a snack for the next morning to tide me over till breakfast. (My darling cat, Treepuck, would have to wait 30 minutes for his breakfast, till I finished my writing.)

When I woke each morning, I would reach for my laptop without setting foot on the floor. I did this daily and made my way through a couple of chapters tucked cozily beneath my comforter.

Unexpectedly, over the ensuing months I eased my way from the bed to the floor and eventually down the stairs to my living room office, all without ever being distracted.

So if you find yourself distracted in the morning . . . take your writing to bed.