02 May

Writing Challenges as Mindful Writing

Posted in Mindful Writing, Process, Story A Day

Writing challenges are a great way to practice mindful writing.  I’ve talked about mindful writing in the past, and the idea is to be fully present in your writing and in the moment.  The question is, how do you do that when you’re doing a challenge?  If you’re pushing to write a whole novel in a month or a different story every day, you don’t have time to be mindful, you just have to cram in as much writing as you can.  Right?  Believe it or not, challenges like StoryADay and NaNoWriMo are actually great exercises in mindful writing.

Here’s why:

1.  You have to practice.  When you do a challenge like this, you’re reinforcing the daily practice of writing.  You’re showing up at the page every day and that’s the first step of mindful writing.

2.  You have to be present.  If you’re writing a story every day or trying to finish a novel, you can’t allow yourself to be distracted by other ideas or projects.  You need to focus all your energy on the project at hand.  This is great practice for mindful writing because if a new and sparkly idea comes up, you have to practice setting it aside so you can work on the current story.

3.  You have to bounce back.  If you miss a day or slip up during the challenge, you have to bounce back and keep writing.  You don’t have time to mope or beat yourself up for “failing” the challenge; you just have to write the next story.  This forces you to set aside those judging thoughts and go back to writing.

Remember: Mindful writing is about being fully present in that moment and in that writing project.  That means noticing when your inner critic is trying to barge in and letting those thoughts go.  It also means bringing yourself back to that project when your thoughts or ideas start to wander.

Are there any challenges you’re facing in your writing?  Is there a way you can use the experience to practice mindful writing?


28 Apr

5 Ways to Tell if It’s The ONE

Posted in DIY MFA, Process, Writing

So far we’ve been talking about ways to spark ideas for new projects, but DIY MFA isn’t just about coming up with a billion new ideas; it’s about eventually choosing one idea and seeing it through to the end.  But how do you know if an idea is really the ONE?  Here are five things that often happen to me when I get that idea that I know will be the ONE.

1) A voice (or series of voices) starts chattering in my head.  Yes, I know this might make me sound crazy, but the truth is, when I start actually hearing my characters in my head, I know that this idea is the ONE I’m supposed to work on.  For me projects always start with the voice of the narrator or main character so if I don’t hear that voice, I know the story’s not ready to be written.

2) I want to know how the story will turn out.  This is why I write to begin with.  I want to know the ending so I have to write the whole thing to see how the story turns out.  If I don’t care about the story or characters enough to want to know the ending, then I know it’s not the ONE.

3) I get protective.  When I first start a project–if it’s something I really care about–I don’t tell most people about it.  Only when I’m at the stage where I need to get feedback do I open up and share the project with a few trusted readers.  If I’m too open about the project at first, I know it’s not something I’m really invested in–it’s not the ONE.

4) I can’t wait to write.  This goes hand in hand with #2.  When I know the story is the ONE, I can’t wait to sit down and write it.  At least that’s true at first.  After the “honeymoon” wears off, motivating myself to write can become more of a challenge but at first when I start the project, nothing can come between me and my writing.

5) I stick with it.  Perhaps the best test of whether a story is the ONE for me is if I stick to it even when another, sparklier idea comes along.  If I can shake off that new idea and stick to my guns on the first story, then I know it’s the ONE.

What do you think?  How do you know when an idea is the ONE?
Homework: Think about all the things you’ve worked on during DIY MFA and choose one that you’d like to pursue further.  Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you won’t ever get to work on all those other ideas (they’ll still be waiting for you when you finish with this first one) but it’s important to have the experience of finishing an entire project.  So, choose one idea and plan to see it through over the next however-many months you choose.


24 Apr

Words, Glorious Words!

Posted in Creativity, DIY MFA, Process, Word Games, Writing Exercises

All writers–whether they write lofty literary fiction or spunky sparkly vampire stories–have one thing in common: an intrinsic love of words.  We can’t get enough of words.  We’re like Oliver, lifting up his bowl and saying: “Please, sir, I’d like some more.”

Today’s post is about glorious words that enrich our love of language.  One tool I’ve developed that helps me rekindle my love of words is the Word Box. 

The concept is simple, really; you just cut up a sheet of paper into lots of little slips and write a random word on each slip.  They can be words you love or hate, words that sound funny or that are fun to say aloud.  The point is that the words be random.  Once you’re done, put your word slips in a container (an envelope, bag, small box.  The only requirement is that it should be easy for you to reach in and pull out a few words at random.

How to Use the Word Box: Pull out 3-7 words at random.  Write for 15 minutes and use all the words.  Note: No fair using a random word in a way that doesn’t make sense or feels forced.  All the words have to feel like they belong in the piece.   Tips: (1) Start with with 3 words and work your way up to 7 with practice.  (2) Keep adding new words to your Word Box over time, to keep things fresh.

Homework: Start a Word Box of your own.  With a little help from friends, the task of finding random words can be easy.  Share some of your own word finds in the comments and borrow suggestions from each other!

Here are 20 words from my Word Box to get you started:

galaxy, gamble, fissure, scamper, flutter, flash, troll, manipulate, secret, nefarious, snarl, flinch, croak, glitz, arabesque, pirate, swirl, windswept, totem, no.

A note about DIY MFA Chat today, (5pm ET) I know it’s Easter so I wasn’t sure if any of you were still up for a chat.  Please tweet or comment if you’re still up for chatting and I’ll be there.  If enough people respond saying “yes I’ll be there” then we’ll proceed as always.  Watch the #diymfa thread for a twitter update on the status of the chat.  I’ll a couple of hours before and let you all know if the chat’s still on or if we’re taking the holiday off.  Sound good?


23 Apr

There Is No Finish Line

Posted in DIY MFA, Process, Writing Sprint

We’ve been working our way through DIY MFA and suddenly it has occurred to me that this is our the last week of April (and therefore also the last week of DIY MFA 2.O).  I have to admit, I panicked a little.
“OMG, what am I going to do in May?” I thought as I hyperventilated and gasped for air.  And then I remembered: there is no one finish line in writing.  You finish one phase and you start a new one.  Once one goal is met, you move on to the next one.  There are small victories along the way, of course–and we should definitely celebrate those–but ultimately there is no finish.
This news might be hard for some of us to hear.  After all, it can be nice to think of one writing project as this big goal and once we finish it, we’re done.  It’s the same way with traditional MFA programs.  Some students focus on the thesis and the program as the end-all-and-be-all, but it doesn’t work that way.  You need to see beyond that finish line to the millions of projects that come after.  It can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Ultimately, I like to look one or two steps ahead.  If you look at all the millions of possibilities, it can make you freeze up.  I prefer to look at just the next step.  Here are a few quotes that have always inspired me:

 “My idea of life is the next page.  The next paragraph.  The next sentence.”
~Charles Bukowski

“Writing is like driving a car at night.  You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
~E.L. Doctorow

Homework:  Go to a writing space that’s comforting to you.  Bring a beverage or snack that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  The point is to coddle your inner writer a little today because you’ll be doing some hard work.
Before you start your sprint, take 10-15 minutes and think about the next step.  This is not a time for stressing, but a time for dreaming.  Let yourself imagine the possibilities of what could be next after your current project.  Once you’ve finished brainstorming, bring yourself back to the present, set the dreams aside and do your sprint for today.  (Sprint badges are posted in the photos section of our Facebook page.)
Here in NYC it’s rainy and disgusting so I thought it would be a nice day to write “in.”  I’ll be curling up with my notebook and a pot of hot vanilla-coconut tea and will be brainstorming what’s next after this round of DIY MFA.  I promise to fill you in on the details once I’ve figured it out!

Would anyone like to share what they think their next step is?  I know I’d love to hear it!


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