How To Get Back into “Creative Mode”

Photo by John Sekutowski on Unsplash

The good news is that I am rewriting or editing at least a little bit on my next book just about every day. The bad news is that after just a couple of days I found myself totally stuck. What I wanted to do with the book and what the book seemed to want to do were at odds.

This book that I am revising (from rough draft to first draft) has a couple of big challenges to the material that I haven’t completely figured out yet. On top of that, some new resources have become available since I started writing, and I need to find ways to work that new content into the book, which, in its rough draft state, is already way too long.

Probably the biggest problem, though, is that I was trying too hard to get too much done too quickly. My best way of writing is to gradually immerse myself into the work itself and into my writing process. And I didn’t really take the time to do that. I’m also very out of practice doing it because the short-form, quick-turnaround, online writing that I have been doing hasn’t allowed for any kind of immersion.

Whenever I have stepped away from writing for a significant amount of time, I seem to always forget:

* Taking deadlines away and pulling the pressure off enables me to write better and faster.

* I am a slow starter when it comes to writing long projects.

So, this past week was essentially a tug-of-war between trying to write fast and on deadline, and slowing myself down to fully enter into the work. And I think that I have finally succeeded. I am not stuck, but am working on two levels: revising a short piece each day and then also stepping back and looking at the work as a whole, so that I can start figuring out how to integrate or interweave the various elements (old and new) that I want to include.

I would like to note the concrete steps I took to slow down and focus, so that next time, I can enter into a project and my writing process more smoothly, thus avoiding getting stuck, freaking out, or plain old running from the blank page. So this list here is for myself for the future. I hope you find elements on this list helpful, too. (Plus, you may have other suggestions to share with me—and please do so!) Here they are:

  • I stopped running from writing, but wrestled with what I was stuck with until I had a grasp of what was wrong (although not how to fix it)
  • I read some short writing encouragement during the week to encourage me to let go and have fun while writing.
  • I stopped worrying about how much I got done each day. (For this project, I don’t have a hard deadline, just a desire to finish. But it is still hard to let go of deadlines!)
  • I went back to my original inspiration and desire for the book, focusing on the project and its (future) readers.
  • I brought it to prayer every day, either in my meditation or in my Hour of Adoration, asking the Lord, “What do You want to say in this book?”
  • I started listening to the work itself, to become an obedient servant of the work (as Madeleine L’Engle so eloquently describes in Walking on Water.) Ultimately, I have been praying to the Blessed Mother to help me become a listening servant to the Holy Spirit to “put words to” the mystery of grace at work in our lives. 

Do you have other ideas that help you get back into creative mode?

Writing Resolutions: Be Gentler!

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I believe that writing, like the spiritual life, has seasons. And perhaps the time away from writing—which I have both regretted and worried over—has been a good thing. (God makes all things work for the good!) After all, God is the One in charge of the seasons of my life, and God has taught me so much in the intervening years! It would be such a blessing to bring those lessons into my writing—both how I write and what I write. So I’ll share here some very personal writing resolutions, as I begin writing again.

I would like…

  • to be kinder and gentler to myself as a writer: letting go of perfectionism when I’m writing rough drafts, letting go of worrying about others’ judgments, and focusing more on listening to God’s voice, to God’s invitations to express what I feel called to say, to be true to myself. (Author and writing coach K. M. Weiland, who produces one of my very favorite writing podcasts, recently released a wonderful episode/blogpost on how judgment and creativity don’t fit together.)
  • to write in a way so that communication is always more “circular”—so that readers can “talk” to me before, after, and while I write for them. I would love for our conversations to become part of each book, even before it is finished! I started trying this years ago, but now I will have the opportunity to pick up that project and complete it!
  • to forge a new relationship with writing: letting go of any guilt when important commitments prevent me from writing, but also not being afraid or apologetic to set writing as a priority. For almost five years, I set writing aside for other (important) matters. Now, I am able to make it one priority among many. I don’t want to feel guilty either for writing (which I used to) or for not writing (which I have also been carrying).
  • to simply enjoy the gift that writing is—to me, and I hope through me, to others. Mother Paula, the sister who brought our congregation here in North America in 1932, used to talk about the new titles we published as being “babies.” And I really feel that way about the books that I write. Every book is an intense labor of love, but each book truly comes to life only when it enters into the lives of its readers…and makes a difference in those lives. I believe that the Lord has a plan for each book, each article, and from now on, I intend to simply follow where the Lord leads.

I’ll start back here blogging very simply, sharing favorite authors, blogposts, and articles about writing, spirituality, artistic practice and the spiritual life. The first resource I’d like to mention is from Sister Nancy Michael Usselmann, FSP, who just published her first book, A Sacred Look: Becoming Cultural Mystics—Theology of Popular Culture, in which she encourages us to become pop culture mystics. I’ll review it soon, and perhaps interview her here. If you have any questions for her, send them in and I’ll ask her!

Do you have a topic that you’d like me to write about on Windows to the Soul? Please post something in the comments below, send me an email, or respond on Facebook. (I am gradually organizing the various social media platforms that I am on so that I can respond in a timely (!) fashion to Facebook and others, and I look forward to many fruitful conversations!)

Above all, know that I keep you—every reader—in my prayers, carrying you in my heart to Jesus in the tabernacle during my daily Hour of Adoration. God bless you!

Gems from the Catholic Writers Conference Online 2017

cwglogoThe Catholic Writers Guild’s Online Conference—just held this past weekend—is a fantastic conference for Catholic writers who are just starting to write, writers who are seeking to publish or are publishing their work for the first time, and for established authors who want the companionship of a like-minded writing community that offers spiritual support (as well as writing support), or for those writers who simply want to explore or deepen the connection between their writing and their life of faith.

This year, my schedule allowed me to participate in only five of the workshops—and I missed three that I really wanted to attend—but I have to confess that I really enjoyed connecting with other writers.

Just a few takeaways:

  • Colleen C. Mitchell’s amazing workshop on integrating our writing with our everyday life, especially her personal witness of how she keeps writing during challenging times. Her witness inspires me.
  • How Terri Ong’s presentation connected St. Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way”  with the writing life. If you’ve read much of this blog, you know that, for me, St. Therese articulates Saint Paul’s spirituality in a contemporary, accessible way. More and more, I see how essential the humility and obedience to the Holy Spirit are to the believer’s ability to respond to their call to write. The Founder of my community, Blessed James Alberione, encouraged us to pray these words often—and now I start every writing session with them: “By myself I can do nothing, but with God I can do all things. For the love of God, I want to do all things. To God, honor and glory; to me, the eternal reward.”
  • Although I have read dozens of writing books, published 7 books, and been studying writing craft for over 15 years, I can always learn something new. I learned a new way to improve the manuscript that I hand in to my editor and some ways to fix problems in developing a scene. But the best part? Connecting with other writers who consider writing a call from God, and a way to serve God’s People. Plus, I was delighted to be able to volunteer to moderate some of the workshops, and so contribute a little back to this lovely writing community.
  • Finally, I was reminded how important writing is to me. For a number of reasons, I have had to put writing on hold—at least, the “deep writing” that I feel called to do. These reasons included transition, a different schedule, new responsibilities, and my preoccupation with several difficult circumstances. The precious gem I received from this conference is a deeper insight into how much “deep writing” energizes me and assists me in doing other important apostolates that I carry out. No matter how busy I am, I cannot completely put it aside any more. I’m eager to find ways to write deeply again—even if it is just 20 minutes a day. 

A profound thank you to the Catholic Writers Guild, and all of those who worked so hard to bless dedicated, hard-working Catholic writers the training, tips, and encouragement we need to continue writing.

Upcoming Conference for Catholic Writers in Chicago area

CWCO_live_smThe Catholic Writers Guild is holding their Catholic Writers Live Conference once again in conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network Conference, in the Chicago area. Here are the quick facts:

WHEN: July 26-July 29, 2016

WHERE: The Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel,1551 N. Thoreau Drive, Schaumburg, IL 60173

LINKED TO: The Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show.

THEME: Openness to God’s Will

How can we know what God wants us to do with our careers, how can we follow him best with our talents? Our conference allows you to connect personally with Catholic publishers and retailers, learn more about the art, show your work, learn the craft, and network. Registration is very reasonable, and it’s already open at this link.

I wish I could go–it looks like it will be a fantastic event for writers! Check out the presenters,  schedule, and pitch sessions. 

 

And don’t forget about the upcoming Clay Pots Retreat for Catholic media professionals in October at our St. Thecla’s Retreat House in Billerica, MA:

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Soul of Christ Goes International with Release in India

I know that, as Daughters of Saint Paul, and especially with digital media, we reach people around the world, but it is a special thrill when one of my books is published in another country or in another language! As far as I know, various books have been printed in French (Bread of Life), Spanish (Life for the World), Polish (See Yourself Through God’s Eyes), and our sisters in India have published several of my books in Indian editions. Yesterday, I received word that Soul of Christ: Meditations on a Timeless Prayer has just been released in India! Here is a review from one of our sisters there.

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Cover of Indian Edition of “Soul of Christ”

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Cover of American edition of “Soul of Christ”

I’m curious: which cover do you like better?

 

Also, I received e a copy of my book, See Yourself Through God’s Eyes: 52 Meditations To Grow in Self-Esteem, in Polish, after our sisters published it in Poland. If you prefer to read in Polish, or know someone who might be helped by this book, please contact me over email, with who it is for and why that person could use it. (That way if I receive multiple requests, I’ll try to pick who can use it most. Note that I can only mail the book within the U.S.) You can see more about the book in English, with the sample introduction here  and a free sample meditation here. There is also a Reader’s Guide available in English here.

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Reflections on the Writing Life: Catholic Perspectives

list-372766_1280If you read my other blog, you know that I needed to take a bit of a hiatus from blogging and writing. While I continue to reorganize my time, I keep finding some fun and interesting resources for writers on the web. Here are some interesting reflections on the writing life, specifically in the context of vocation and mission:

Vermeer’s Window: An artist’s meditation on living in the present moment by Jerome Miller is a wonderfully profound reflection on what it means to live in the present moment according to Miller’s interpretation of a Vermeer masterpiece, “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.” Reading (and reflecting on) this meditation is well worth the time it takes to read it. Thank you, America Magazine, for making this available online!

Somehow I missed The Jesuit Post’s  “The Catholic Writing Series,” but fortunately I ran into it this past month by accident. I highly recommend each article–I’ve linked to the entire series, which is contributed to by poets, fiction, and nonfiction writers, all of whom offer a sense of the deeper meaning of the vocation to write, the importance of Catholic writing in our world today, and our role as Catholic writers.

You may have already read the recent announcement that the Vatican is launching a digital library on the Church and communications. Currently in beta form and only in Italian, this new digital library currently offers a very complete list and an excellent search engine for any papal or Church documents on communication. (Note that if the documents are available in English, the search engine will bring them up in English and other available languages.) You can find this new digital resource here:  www.chiesaecomunicazione.com.

Finally, I am returning to the Salt + Light Radio Hour with Deacon Pedro this Saturday and Sunday with a review of the films, Do You Believe? and Faith of Our Fathers, produced by PureFlix, who also produced God’s Not Dead last year.  You can listen on the Catholic Channel on Sirius, on Relevant Radio, find other broadcasters here, or listen via podcast. 

Sneak Peek of Next Week?

I’m delighted to be currently reading GeekPriest: Confessions of a New Media Pioneer by Father Roderick Vonhögen. Although I’m only halfway through it, I can already recommend it as an entertaining and helpful resource for all Catholic communicators. I hope to post up a review shortly.

 

A New Year for Writing and Blogging

Happy New Year! I wasn’t planning to blog today, but I received my 2014 report for this blog from Wordpress.com’s “helper monkeys,” and so I thought I’d post it up. (I could use some “helper monkeys” for my writing. I wonder how I can find some?) I also got the stats for www.coauthoryourlifewithGod.com, so I’m linking you to that report as well for those of you who want to see how my blogging-a-book is going. (The short answer? It’s going well!)

I’m still trying to figure out how to find and connect with more readers for both blogs, but connecting with other events and popular sites is helpful: the Marian Christmas Movie Countdown proved very popular here, and of course launching the discernment blog the same week that Lifetime ran their show The Sisterhood was a huge help in getting CoAuthor Your Life with God off to a great start.

Having said that, I wouldn’t be blogging–and enjoying blogging–without readers. So a big thank you for stopping by to read, to comment, to reflect on the spirituality of writing, communication, and media. A special shout out to those of you who commented and shared my blog posts 10 or more times: Francis Philip and Anela!

While I look forward to a new year of writing and connecting with other writers and readers, I begin the year with prayer for all my current readers, especially today.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 12,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.