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how instagram helps my writing

How Instagram Helps My Writing

I took a “Writing from Personal Experience” class in Cambridge taught by Mopsy Strange Kennedy. An exercise she often assigned us involved going on “writerly walks.”  She encouraged us to travel our usual paths but make the effort to really notice – maybe for the first time – the details along the route: the bicycle chained to a post, the balustrade in need of paint, the torn screen on a window.  After the walk, we were supposed to write about a particular object, the more mundane the better, but the purpose was to infuse that object with meaning.  It was a good way to develop writing muscle as well as the art of paying attention. I noticed quirks and color and inconsistencies. I noticed the way the sun reflects off a window or the way steam rises off hot pavement, windows that were open wide and music that traveled to the sidewalk, even the scent of hot pizza escaping a delivery bike’s insulated red container. I noticed trash and dog poop, as well as crocuses pushing up through the earth.

Aiming to post a daily photo on Instagram requires a similar practice. When taking photographs, I am not looking for smell or sound, but for an interesting tableau.  It’s easy to take our routines for granted, but when searching for beautiful patterns or color or amusements, we have our eyes wide open.  Social media can be blamed for a lot but, for me at least, when it comes to Insta, it adds an artistic distraction to my day.

Follow me on Instagram @jeanneblasbergauthor.

Thirty Day Challenges- Life as a Laboratory

Thirty days is the perfect amount of time to experiment with something new and different. How often do we look back at a month or four weeks and think, “Where did it go?” Thirty days is a long enough period of time to really accomplish something, while its short enough to convince your mind to stick with a little discomfort. Some people can learn a language in thirty days. I have even heard of some who have written a book!

Over the last several years my husband and I have conducted various thirty-day experiments. We woke at 5am every morning to meditate. We were gluten free for a month and tried various other diets. I swam in the ocean every day, and I wrote a poem or a letter to a friend every day on other go rounds. Some practices stuck, others were tossed out as no fun (see gluten free).

Most recently I conducted a thirty-day experiment in Utah… a self-induced retreat where I detached from my regular life. I planned to ski every morning, write the rest of the day, and go to bed early. First of all, let me state that I recognize how fortunate I am to be able to choose such a thing, but in various ways, big and small, everyone has the ability to make a thirty day change. In January 2017 we leased a house in Park City for March 2018, and it was a good thing we did it so far in advance, because for a period leading up to departure, I was filled with regret and doubt: a combination of having to decline fun invitations and worrying the snow wasn’t good, and then there was the underlying expense of it all.

A month can get committed away if the calendar isn’t safely guarded. That it is why it is important to plan ahead and create an intention around a thirty-day experiment. I’d always loved the idea of being a ski bum out west, and am actually considering it full time (ssh that’s a secret), so I tried the life for thirty days – bought a pass – and was the first one in the lift line to the point where the operators started to recognize and expect me. I’d always envied locals who enjoyed the liberty of skiing as little or as long as they felt like. It’s the opposite vibe of family weekends where we had only two days and we’d paid a fortune, so we were going to ski all out no matter what the conditions were.

I was excited the rental house was close to a lift, but it was the slowest ride ever. As the fresh air cleared (some of) my type A personality away, I used the time to meditate, or to just absorb the colors – blue sky, white snow, green pine trees. Despite a blanket of snow, birds chirped every morning. The clocks changed, the spring equinox arrived, and the sun grew warmer. The altitude was something I had to adjust to, my heart beating a little faster and my body thirsty for water most of the time. The landscape dragged me back to the basics.

Meditation on the lift was useful, but nothing forces me into the present moment like downhill skiing. When carving and picking up speed, there can be absolutely nothing else on one’s mind except where to make my next turn. Returning to my desk, it was easier to approach writing with the same single-mindedness.

My motto for the thirty days was simplicity: dress simply (long johns), eat simply (loved the burritos at El Chubasco), and enjoy being alone (with my dog). I experienced solitude while a vibrant town buzzed around me. And I made a brilliant decision while I was there – to do it again in March 2019!

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Gratitude and Reflections for a New Year

Before I look forward to 2018’s resolutions, I need to say thank you to 2017.

There hasn’t been a year in which I’ve felt such gratification. Yes, my first novel, EDEN, was published, but that occasion became the catalyst for something much bigger. I often dubbed my book tour a friendship tour because it became an excuse to connect with old friends and make many new ones. Coming out from under my rock of solitary writing, I re-connected with people. I have never felt so supported, not just by friends and family, but by a higher source of creative energy. Whereas my schedule had always felt overbooked and conflicted in the past, author events fell into place almost magically and people appeared along the path at steady intervals to open doors. Approaching each day with an attitude of “yes”, I surfed a wave of generosity, and it was a life-changer.

In 2017, I was the beneficiary of so much kindness, from authors who blurbed my novel to readers who hosted book parties and book club events, to relatives who went out of their way to be supportive. These gestures have permanently changed me. I have always considered myself a “giver”, but from now on I will always say yes when it comes to supporting a friend or another artist, a friend’s favorite cause, or a person trying something new. There is an abundance of love in the world and I am excited to add to it.

Now for doing it better in 2018…..

Even writers with established practices have to make a conscious decision to show up every day. I’ve played around with which structure works best for me and I seem to have the most energy in the morning. But I’ve recently added something new from the “The Artists Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” by Julia Cameron, writing long hand morning pages followed by an affirmation before diving into novel revisions.

Morning Pages are intended to serve as a place for unloading the clutter that’s often at the forefront of one’s mind. Whether a writer is aware of it or not, clutter often prevents creativity energy and great ideas from revealing themselves. I typically meditate in the morning with the hopes of accomplishing the same “cleanse”, but for the next month I am going to experiment with both meditation and morning pages. I will need to rise a little earlier in the New Year in order to find time for my ever-lengthening morning routine!

And that leads me to the most important resolution of all! Going to bed earlier….. I am such a disciplined person, but staying up late is a big weakness. Getting up an hour earlier every day could lead to so much….. Here we go!

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November means….NaNoWriMo

…it’s time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In 2016, I committed to writing 2,000 words a day on my manuscript for the month and that burst of productivity resulted in me completing the draft of a novel by year’s end. Whether you end up with a complete draft of a novel in a month, or just well on your way, it is fun to get caught up in the creativity energy whirling around!

Writing a novel is an intimidating endeavor, but not when you break the work up into manageable chunks. Setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals will get you there. Thirty days is the perfect amount of time to start a disciplined practice. That’s what NaNoWriMo is all about – creating a practice.

I will be revising and re-writing daily this November, so my output will be harder to measure, but it’s all in the same spirit. Do it every day…

Here are some ideas for NaNoWrimo:

  • Don’t edit yourself – write with abandon, spelling and grammar be damned.
  • Be bold
  • If you miss a day, let yourself off the hook and start back up when you can,
  • but don’t quit!
  • Experiment with times of day and places you like to write
  • Type some, and write long hand
  • Try writing in the still, quiet of the early morning
  • Carry a notebook so you can jot down ideas throughout the day
  • Keep pressing forward, resist the urge to revise (for now)
  • Have fun and be proud of your end result.

How Squash Powers my Writing

I’ve been touched by the way my squash community has supported the launch of EDEN: A Novel (and my new writing life, for that matter).  I’m also extremely grateful for the thoughtful review James Zug wrote in June’s Squash Magazine and the support of Ivy Pochoda and Louisa Hall, world class squashers who played for the Crimson in the 00’s, for reading advance copies of EDEN and writing its first endorsements.

Besides that demonstration of support, and the fact that I’ve approached this publishing journey with the determination of an athlete, I thought I’d use this blog to describe the other ways my new writing life has been shaped by the sport I love.

Squash and writing can both be solitary pursuits, but to approach them as such is a shame. Both are done better with the support and encouragement of community. My experience with US Squash taught me to seek out a writing community and to get involved. Thank goodness for the comradeship of Grub Street, or I’d still be puttering away at a draft of EDEN, alone in my house, wondering if it would ever be good enough. And without the feedback and challenges of fellow GrubStreet work-shoppers, it wouldn’t have been!

Excellence in athletics requires a consistent practice and desire to improve. Not that every time I go out and play, I play my best, but it’s knowing the potential exists, that my talent can be summoned, that keeps me going. Same with writing, sometimes I feel like a day’s output is no good, but it’s the knowing that cleverness and insight can be summoned in future drafts that pushes me along.

When it comes to squash, I’ve lost way more matches than I’ve won. Nevertheless, I am a highly ranked player and have won two National Championships. Still, it is the knowing that, in the arenas in which I choose compete, I will face very tough competition, which drives me to practice.

I’ll equate all those squash defeats with the multitude of rejection I faced trying to get my book published. Thankfully, squash made me relatively immune to taking set backs personally. I treat rejection like feedback which can dictate what my next course of action should be. Rejection is not a judgment on my worth as a person, but makes me rethink and improve my writing.

In squash you learn to never give up, because it only takes a couple of smart, well-executed shots to win a series of points. Those points can result in the momentum of a entire match swinging, and maybe an unexpected win. And it only takes a couple of great wins, strung together, to win a tournament.  Similarly for all the rejections I experienced during the publishing process, it only took a few well timed “wins” to change everything, shift momentum, and create some buzz around my book.

Even though I am a good squash player, I enter most tournaments as a huge underdog. As the great Canadian player, Jonathan Power, likes to say, “There are lots of levels of good.” In other words, you can be good and there will still be somebody better, and then somebody better still. Sometimes I’ll be reading one of my favorite authors before bed time and the writing can be so moving, so spot on, I’ll close the book and start to think, “What right do I have to even try?” I gather up my courage again by remembering there are a lot of levels of good, and just because I’m not going to “win” a Pulitzer prize doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be part of the field which colors the landscape.

Squash has taught me courage and how to be a positive inner coach. I guess this is why the sport has been such a powerful tool for teaching our SquashBusters students life lessons, and why junior squash is a great training ground for mental toughness. Its lessons are transferrable in myriad ways – a satisfying writing life is really just the least of them.