You Have to Live to Write. Right?

I think my word count from last week totals somewhere between 54 and 432.

The paltry amount of writing I’ve done hit me full force Saturday morning on the way to pick up my car from the downtown parking garage where I’d left it, unintentionally, the night before.

My nasty inner voice — the one with the riding crop and no sense of humor — started in on me right away.

What happened to all those hours you scheduled JUST for writing this week? It sneered, plastering screenshots of my color-coded editorial calendar to the backs of my eyeballs.

You couldn’t even manage an hour a day for something you say you love? You’re not a writer. You’re a pretender. You’re a fucking failure. Who the hell do you think you are, telling people you’re ‘working on a book’?!? Just give up, already.  

…and a lot more really supportive stuff I should probably write down, in case I ever want to feature a dominatrix in one of the books I swear I’m writing.

What the riding-crop weilding bitch’s voice didn’t take into account when she taunted me with images of that calendar is that I color-code everything I need to make room for in my life. Writing gets red, because it’s my priority (usually), but time with Friends and Family gets a bright, twinkling blue. It’s in direct contrast with the red to remind me that living has to happen if I want to do any quality writing — and vice versa.

Last week’s calendar was light on the red because it was exploding with blue. I made it to five out of six of the celebrations for two birthday girls (my mother and my daughter); danced while my braver friends sang at an all-night karaoke event; helped out at a charity gig; met up with an “I’m only in town for one night, you have to come out with me” friend; and stumbled into about eight other epic things that happened.

By the time the peer pressure got heavy to go to the next party on Saturday night, my feet were screaming at me to burn all my high heels and my body was on its knees begging me to give up and go to bed. I swear it was past 2 a.m., but my phone insisted it was only 9:30 p.m. Sunday was a lot calmer, but it was still one of those days where you leave the house for brunch and get back nine hours later.

I wrote somewhere between 54 and 432 words last week, and I’m okay with that.

You know why? Because, I am a writer. In the recesses of my mind, I have recorded every minute of every event, every song, every conversation, every change of scenery, and every comic mishap. This week, as I sit down to create and develop the settings and characters and conversations that bring my book to life, I will draw on last week’s antics. My writing will be better because of it — the people will be more interesting, the places more colorful, and the plot more twisted.

The ultimate fantasy for a lot of writers is to get away from life for a while and hunker down in a secluded location. We yearn to be left alone with our imaginations, our laptops, and an endless flow of caffeinated and/or alcoholic beverages. Add some food on hand that doesn’t require thought, let alone preparation, and we just know we would be in a writer’s paradise.

But isolation is not the secret to success, not if it’s the norm, not for me. 

I need a life full of the strange and exciting that happen when I say, “YES!” When I make sure my calendar is alive with red and blue, then I know I am committed to being the best kind of writer I can be.

On the flipside of the argument I’m making that you have to live to write is the neat little consequence of sitting down to actually write this blog post: I now have a dominatrix to add to my bank of characters and a plot thread beginning to pick up speed in my head.

Cheers to another week of living and writing!

Can You Come Out to Play?

This past week, we added Wednesday nights to the schedule of meet-up opportunities for our writers support group. I chose a small pizzeria on the West end of our island city that boasts locally sourced ingredients, including the beers on tap and the wine selection. Our table of eight writers overwhelmed the restaurant, and people waiting in line for their to-go orders were privy to our conversations, which ebbed and flowed but always had something to do with writing.

Animals___Cats_curious_Cat_043848_The expressions on a few of the faces of those standing nearby made me want to beckon them over to join us, whispering conspiratorially, 1. We don’t bite (hard), and 2. We know that look of yearning, take a chance on us.

Are you like them, tantalized by thoughts of joining a local writing group, but hesitating because you don’t know what you could possibly get from it, or worse, what you could possibly contribute?

That was me last year. I wanted to be able to go to a cafe and spend time writing, but I felt self-conscious doing it by myself, and even more self-conscious asking an established group of serious writers if I could sit with them. I needed my own posse to feel safe, so I started To Live and Write in Alameda and hoped two or three other people would jump at the excuse to leave the cave and come join me out in the world.

support-groupI didn’t think I had the chops to run an actual writing group, so I made it a writers support group, and what I found is a winning formula. Writers need other writers to talk to so we know we’re not crazy. We also need other writers to guide us through the next step while we reach back and help along the writers who are behind us on the same path.

I was so excited that actual writers actually came out to meet with me and each other that I inadvertently created a group where everyone is excited to come out to meet with each other, to share stories about success, failure, struggle and achievement, to bask in each other’s uniqueness, and to build friendships.

To Live and Write has become a forum for the exchange of ideas and information, but it also has an element of therapy to it that is deeply life-affirming.

The only way it works, though, is when people show up, which is why I go for casual, intimate settings like  Croll’s Pizza and Beer. I do what it takes to entice members to play with us, and sure enough, two new people showed up Wednesday night.

hiding-behind-computer Today, there are 79 members in To Live and Write in Alameda, most of whom, for various reasons, do not come out to play. I like to imagine they are quietly typing away in the privacy of their homes, burning the midnight oil while the family sleeps, or greeting a new dawn with 1,000 new words already drying on the page, and they would love to join us, but haven’t the time, and just knowing we’re here spurs them on.

Actively writing or not, I think they’re missing out, but it can be difficult to describe the benefits of participating in our meet ups when those benefits vary from writer to writer.

The rest of us, the 15 or 20 members who do come out to play, get to reap the rewards of interacting with other people who are engaged in writing as a craft. Regardless of where each of us is in our development and experience, coming together as a community can pay off in a number of ways.

Some of us are energized by spending time with people who see us and get us, and the sense of belonging quiets the voices and fuels the courage to tell our stories. Some of us spend all week working and writing from home — we don’t need yet another place to sit in front of the laptop and write, we need an excuse to get out from behind it and live. Others get stuck and need to be directed or dragged kicking and screaming to the next stage of the process.

We are the friends you make who hold your feet to the fire and then hoist you on our shoulders when you succeed.

We meet Tuesday mornings at a cafe, Wednesday nights at a pizzeria, and Thursday nights at a coffee shop. The first two meetings are discussion heavy, and those needing to get some writing done wear earbuds or sit at another table. Thursday nights have become for writing.

The mission of To Live and Write is to inspire, encourage, and support writers. The meet ups are just one way we do this for each other. Writers are unique individuals, and we need all the help we can get.

alumniwayssupportstackrocksYou need all the help you can get, even if you don’t know what that is just yet.

Find a group and go out to play.

The Tweets Have Been Scheduled

It’s Monday morning, and I’m a bit late for #MondayBlogs. To make up for it, I just scheduled four Tweets each for the members of my writers support group who participate in this global phenomenon. It only took a few minutes, because several months ago one of us got all excited about Hootsuite and told the rest of us how to use it properly, and I’ve been Hootsuiting ever since.

By “the rest of us” I mean the six or eight people who were sitting at the table that week, at our favorite Tuesday morning haunt, which takes place at a local coffee and tea shop with a breakfast menu that has us all addicted to their simple, organic, delicious food.

Today, we are just shy of 80 members, with about a dozen of us who have been showing up at our regular meet-ups for several months now. Sometimes we have more than eight people crowding around a table, and sometimes it’s just one or two of us, but the going rate seems to be six at a time. Some people come early and leave early; some come late and stay late; some set their watches by the 2-hour window, and everyone else pops in and out as their schedules allow.

It’s a very fluid thing, and I set it up that way on purpose.

You see, ours is a writers support group — emphasis on support. It’s part therapy, part excuse to get away from the computer, part educational experience. We spend the time teaching each other about blogging, pitching, freelancing, self-discipline, critiquing, Tweeting, you name it. If it has to do with what it takes to be a writer and how to deal with the challenges of marketing ourselves and procuring work, we discuss it.

We are successful because we do it via the comfy feels of chatting with friends. 

This morning, I’ll be adding this blog to the list of Tweet-for-each-others on our Facebook page, To Live and Write in Alameda, before I jump in the shower and get ready to go out to a client’s office, where I’ll use some of what I’ve learned from my fellow Live and Writers in their social media marketing.

Tomorrow at the coffee shop, one of our members will teach another about MailChimp while the rest of us listen and absorb (or write with our earbuds in, because that happens, too — we are writers, after all).

We’re also going to talk about editorial calendars, because some of us have been using them for years, while others of us have just heard of them.

This plan came about in a rather organic way, as they do in this group.

A bunch of us signed up to get a member’s newsletters. Our town’s Poet Laureate (yes, she’s a member, and yes, I’m bragging) then asked another member to explain MailChimp, because she needs their service all of a sudden. MailChimp chick said, “Sure! But, um, can someone help me out with setting some kind of schedule for myself? I’ve just taken on a few new projects and I’m getting overwhelmed.” — or words to that effect.

And that’s how you fill a Tuesday morning with quiche, portobello mushroom panini, MailChimp, chai lattes, editorial calendars and tumeric ginger tea. Sprinkle in some dirty jokes, double entendres, and no-holds-barred teasing, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good time. And plot fodder.

We bring our laptops and notebooks and rarely write anything down.

In a world of writing groups where all kinds of fantastic writing gets done, where creative prompts are gobbled up in even more creative fashion, where timed writing sprints get words out of heads and onto pages, where you sit silently and industriously with your laptop and get down to the serious business of writing in a room full of writers, and where NaNo camps and WriMos produce tens of thousands of words at a time, we get nothing done. Correction: We get no writing done.

We connect. We share, we socialize; we teach, we learn. We support, and we encourage. Then we go back to our homes and our offices and our other spaces and we are more productive and more successful than we are when we stay in our homes and our offices and other spaces and forget to interact with other human beings, especially other writers.

Most of all, we participate in each other’s success. We take the steps and do the things and Tweet the blogs and show up at the readings and reach out at midnight. Because it’s a support group, people. A writers support group.