Om Mani Padme Writing . . .

by Pari

Guilt is a rotten emotion; I wish I didn’t come by it so naturally. However, guilty I do feel. You all know what I’ve been facing in my personal life and on June 29 I started working full time. To say that my formerly balanced life is now completely out of whack is so incredibly inaccurate, it’s almost funny.


I’ve been scarce here at the ’Rati and really regretting shirking my responsibilities. But when a night owl has to get up at 5:30 am to walk the dogs, water the ever bigger garden (too many pots this year), and dress for work, well, it’s just plain ugly. I often don’t turn on my personal computer until returning home after work. And then the evenings are family time – what little we have before we have to go to bed early and start all over again.

I’m not complaining (well . . . yes I am. I don’t like getting up early even though I love being up early!), I’m just explaining why my comments have been far and few during the last few weeks. I know I’ve missed some great conversations and my intellectual life is a little poorer for being remiss.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve been mentally comatose (except when I first get up at 5:30 . . .), thinking only about make-up and proper attire. No.  My pesky little brain has been on overdrive. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about is my writing goals for this next July-to-July stint.

Last year, my only goal was to write fiction daily no matter what. I did it too. July 2 was my one-year anniversary. During those first 365 days, I was tremendously inconsistent re: quantity. Some days, I wrote only a sentence; other days were much more “productive.”

When it comes to quality, I don’t know what to think. Right now I have no idea if any of the writing is good or bad because I haven’t edited a damn thing.

Still I’ve been mulling goals ever since July 2. Should I give myself a word count amount? A goal of, say, 200+ a day? Should I edit for an hour every weekend to finally publish some of this work? Should I get some of the stories, novellas or the novel, up electronically to give my readers something new to read?

I don’t know. Every time I try to define or alter the goal from last year, it feels overwhelming, uncomfortable or like something expected from the outside rather than coming from within. It feels like it would evoke guilt and I’m too good at that already.

What I do know is that the daily practice of affirming my life as a fiction writer is important to me—whether it’s with one original sentence or several fresh pages.  I’d like to say that the quantity and quality matter in this process, but in doing this daily writing, it’s only the doing that feels essential.

My questions for you today are:
1.  Do you have a daily practice that has become important to you?
2.  What is it and why is it important?
3.  Are you good at setting and meeting goals without putting a bunch of guilt on yourself in the process? If so, how do you do it? Any tips?

I apologize in advance if I don’t answer comments in a timely manner. I’ll take a gander at what’s being said during my breaks, lunch and after work . . .


27 thoughts on “Om Mani Padme Writing . . .

  1. Sarah W

    On weekdays, I get up at five, get ready for work, check e-mail and a few choice blogs (hi, there), and then sit and write until it's time to wake the family. I take my notebook to lunch and outline my next scene (or untangle the last one). And after the kids are in bed (please note, I didn't say "asleep"), I sit and write until it's my bedtime (or well past, on good days). It's not a lot of time, but it's what I have right now.

    I can't always count on inspiration or even interest, so I've made a regular habit of sitting and putting words down. Sometimes, it even works.

    As for goals . . . I'm much better at meeting other people's deadlines than my own personal ones. And I don't think I'm genetically disposed to avoid guilt — In fact, I appear to be a sort of magnet.

  2. Dana King

    On workdays I get up around 6:30 and read my regular blogs and news feeds until it's time to start work. (I work from home most of the time.) After work I write after supper each night, and in the afternoon after my other chores are complete on weekends. This is the second year I've taken the summer off, which works out nicely for recharging my batteries.

    When setting goals, I'm careful not to set goals that will be too stressful to meet. I'm not making a living as a writer (my first Kindle book will come out around Labor Day), so i don;t need the stress for something that is, by definition, an avocation. If it was my career, that would have to be different, but it's not, and I don't expect it will be.

  3. Pari Noskin

    Sounds like we're on the same schedule, except some members of my family are up before I am in the morning which makes this blessed time not quiet or, more important, peaceful. But that's all right, isn't it? We do what we need to do. And it sounds like writing is a daily habit for you, too.

    Re: Guilt? Yeah. And meeting deadlines? Hah! I so know what you mean.

    It sounds like you've come to peace about where writing stands in your life. I'm getting there too. I wanted it to be a career, but it didn't fit the bill for the changed life circumstances. But I do hope to use it as a real supplement to my income. For now, I'll just keep writing and, I hope, start posting them on the internet.

  4. Louise Ure

    Pari, I think you ought to cut yourself some slack here. There's nothing magic about a July to July calendar. Give yourself a month or so to get used to the new circadian rhythms and then figure out what writing goals make sense.

  5. David Corbett

    Dear Pari:

    I have little doubt that everything I'm about to say is stuff you already know, but hearing it from someone else may help ground your own intuitions.

    Pema Chödrön, in WHEN THINGS FALL APART, tells the story (there's always a story) about how her sensei, whenever she finally began to settle in to her practice and feel like she was making progress, would disrupt her routine. She came to strongly resent this until, you guessed it, enlightment came in the form of the insight — change is the norm. Routine is the illusion.

    Now, I'm not just a creature of habit — I am a happy inhabitant of habit's petting zoo. But part of the guilt you're feeling may simply be a sense of responsibility for an order it's not in your power to create.

    Also, your guilt may be feeding on your self-doubt. Or it may be that your animus (oh God no, Corbett's using Jungian terminology! The end is nigh!!) — ahem — it may be that your animus is assuming a punitive aspect because you feel like you have failed. The stern father of your unconscious is so severely disappointed. Well, fine — screw him. But he's also you. Steal his thunder, kick over the bowl of bile he pours into your brain at night. Say to yourself — Okay, let's tidy up at least a little of this mess. Use that negativity as a source of initiative. Don't feel oppressed by it. Put it on like a protective mantle.

    If guilt reasserts itself, turn it around into assertion, aggression. You've taken martial arts, you know what that's all about.

    I find, whenever I go through a period like you're going through — and I'm just coming out of one — that my two most helpful mantras are: Keep Rowing — and — Make a Reasonable Goal and Stick to It. The key to the second, of course, is REASONABLE. I'll write a page. I'll write a paragraph. Once you master that, push it a little. Don't feel bad if you have to revise the goal as circumstances dictate. Just assume control.

    Also, it seems like your day is jammed, but don't forget exercise. I did recently — to my peril. It's self-defeating. The anxiety and guilt feed the lethargy and depression and you get stuck.

    I think your other difficulty right now is that everything is so new and different so suddenly. You're like a squirrel that's almost been run over — perched at the side of the road, shaking it's head. Just accept that. Don't beat yourself up about it, that's for damn sure. Remember — calm continuity is the illusion. Change is the reality.

    Speaking of which — and we've discussed this before — you are on the cusp of a major life change that in many ways has been thrust on you. And in some ways it has actually fed your creativity — your painting, for example. I'd not worry so much about productivity for the time being and instead focus on reclaiming and strengthening your creative heart. When you feel grounded, start setting small goals for yourself, and then slightly larger ones as circumstances permit. I said it once before — these are your 40 days in the desert. It's not wandering. It's purification.

    Advice is cheap, I know. You have no doubt in one form or another thought of everything I've just said. But sometimes it's not so much what you think so much as when. You may tell yourself these things 50 times before, one day, you just slip into the new groove. Don't sweat it if it takes a while for that to happen. Sometimes the hardest thing of all is patience, which is a sneaky, subtle, unheralded form of courage.

    Take very good care my dear.


  6. Eika

    I wrote every day for over a year, once. When I finally stopped for a while, it was a relief; I was able to be much more productive later because I'd taken a one-week break where my creativity didn't need to be 'on' constantly.

    At the same time, during that year, I got far more done than I would have otherwise, or have been able to since, in terms of writing. I should try to do the same thing at some point, but it's much harder when I'm editing at the same time (when I edited, I managed a sentence at most).

    Right now, my policy is basically that I need to always be adding to works in progress. It's a good compromise; 'adding to' is really unspecific, and I can't remember the last time I wasn't working on something. It means everything from rereading the thing and adding in foreshadowing and red herrings, since I tend to plot on the fly, to actually adding new sentences to the end. As long as I add at least one sentence, I'm set. This way, when I'm really busy (or distracted, or sick, or just plain lazy) it's easier to get back into things when I have time later.

    My daily routine involves checking a double-handful of webcomics, writing blogs and sites, and e-mail. I keep meaning to add Tai Chi practice to my morning, but it's usually trumped by 'roll over for another five minutes'.


  7. Tammy Cravit

    Pari, when you describe your wrestling with what goals to set and how to set them, I wonder if you might not be battling a little bit of what I've heard called "analysis paralysis"? Sometimes mulling over the *right* thing to do isn't nearly as helpful as just doing *something*. A military friend of mine tells me that a popular adage in her culture says that although doing the right thing in any given situation is of course the best choice, it's better to do the wrong thing decisively than it is to do nothing. The thinking is that even the wrong thing moves you away from the status quo, and that movement in SOME direction usually beats standing still.

    I try to write every day as well, and I generally set my goals based on word count rather than time spent working. It's simply too easy for my procrastinator's brain to get sucked up into online "research" for endless hours otherwise. But I also recognize that writing is but one part of my life, and that sometimes I just have to give myself forgiveness for falling off the wagon. (For example, when I was wrapped up in a year's worth of ugly litigation a couple years ago, I wrote nearly nothing for 9 or 10 months. The novel I'm struggling to finish now would have been done long ago but for that loss of momentum; it's been extremely hard to come back to it without triggering all the traumatic memories of what was going on in my life when I wrote the first 90%) All we can do is our best, and that is rarely perfection.

    I knew someone who used to say, "eat your elephant one bite at a time, and don't start with the butt." I think that's the best way to tackle these balances. Focus on the next bite, and trust that the elephant will take care of itself.

  8. Alafair Burke

    I'm very bad at sticking to goals, although I do try to write every single day. (Don't feel guilty! We all get busy. That's why it's great being part of a group. You do so much heavy lifting, you are entitled to rely on others when you need to.)

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    My big fear is that I'll squander away the time I have, the writing year I've managed to buy myself, and have to go back to find a full time job. It's a real possibility. I'm certainly not going to survive on my fiction writing alone. If I don't get another screenwriting assignment or two I'll be out there pounding the pavement. And so, when I'm not getting real productive writing done every day I feel the weight of that guilt on my shoulders. And I'm not getting much productive writing done right now. I don't know what's keeping me from plowing ahead. Fear of succeeding, perhaps?
    "Every time I try to define or alter the goal from last year, it feels overwhelming, uncomfortable or like something expected from the outside rather than coming from within" – this line of yours really resonates with me. I also feel like I'm trying to accomplish goals which do not evolve organically from within.
    I'm moving forward, so I guess that means something. Every day – a new thought on character, a new scene in the outline that affects plot, a subtle brushstroke here or there. It's taking a long, long time, this one.
    To answer your questions: I am terrible at meeting goals and I have no particular daily routines. I try to find a cafe where I don't know everyone so I can get some writing done. And then, in an incredible feat of procrastination, I go about meeting everyone in the new cafe. Then I have to find another cafe. That's my routine. Real productive.

  10. Judy Wirzberger

    My wonderful Pari, warrior woman
    I may buck the trend here. You worked very hard at making sure you wrote every day. I don't think you should stop. However, maybe you should redefine writing. Take a walk at lunch and "write in your brain" — those thoughts are golden. Start a "today I," that doesn't have to be every day. Today I felt like shit. Today I walked in the rain. Today I thought about my next scene. And Editing is writing. So if you write a small story and you work on editing, that's writing. And our marvelous Louise has the right advice. Cut yourself some slack. Let yourself get used to your new routine. Decide what you can "not" do. I remember when I decided I could no longer pick up my kids' rooms. If they didn't have their clothes in the laundry, they didn't get washed. I let each one decide what they wanted for dinner one night a week and they had to fix it….I helped sometimes. We rapidly learned the difference between need and want.

    Don't feel guilty because you can't do it all; feel smart that your recognize it. Recognize your choices. Your world has changed and so must the world of those around you. Never forget to feed your soul.
    Give yourself a sloth day, or hour.

    Each morning, let amazement of what the day may hold, lighten your load.
    Try not to feel guilty for being human. Accept your limitations and enjoy those "selfish" moments of replenishing your spirit.

    Look in the mirror and hear me say, "You're all right, kid." Judy

  11. Jenni

    Pari, I think you are suffering from super-woman syndrome– the belief that you have to do it all and do it well– be a good mom, good employee, good writer, all while keeping your house and garden in good order. Life is too short to put so many expectations on ourselves. Try to do too much with too little time, and you will set yourself up for failure and disappointment. As others have pointed out, you are going through a lot of changes right now. Give yourself time to adapt. Starting a new job is a major deal in itself. No wonder you don't feel like you have time to check in here. Realistically, you don't.

    It sounds like you've already set a major goal, and that is to daily affirm yourself as a fiction writer. However you set your goals – by category, by target date, by daily task – the most important thing is, don't beat up on yourself if you don't hit a goal. All we can do is put our best foot forward each day, one step at a time, and let go of the things that we can't do, or that get in the way of our goals.

    I've had to put my writing goals on hold while I train for a new career, but eventually, I'll get back to them. I went for a couple of years with the goal of writing 1,000 words a day while working full time and parenting teenagers (which is another kind of hell altogether). Usually I wrote way more than that. I've been in transition myself for a while, but need to get back to setting some of these goals again. Obviously, I'm not the world's best goal setter, but I think you have to pat yourself on the back for the things you do achieve, set some manageable tasks, and do what you can, let the rest go.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I agree with everyone here, all such great insight!

    LU is dead on that you should cut yourself some slack. Alaina is brilliant about moving each project forward every day – I have been doing that myself as I'm juggling a scary number of projects but it helps so much to hear you say it, Alaina!

    It seems counter-intuitive when your day is already overwhelming, but working through the exercises in The Artist's Way was lifesaving for me when I was paralyzed with grief and couldn't bear to write fiction. It was really the first program of – anything – that helped me START to be gentle with myself instead of constantly demanding. Workaholism and guilt-driven work are still major problems but at least I'm more aware of what I'm doing and sometimes I stop, now.

  13. Allison Davis

    My new habit is going to get up everyone morning and look at myself in the mirror and say, "You're all right kid." (Thanks Judy).

    Pari, don't dispair, as you see we all struggle with this, some better than others. I don't do such a good job. I try to stick to a routine, except when I can't. I try to exercise in the morning, then listen in some sports radio (bad habit, must follow my baseball team) while I'm suiting up for work, and then work envelopes — no I don't get a lunch that's mine — and then get home around 7 or 8, feed the cats, pour a glass of something and turn on the computer and think about writing. I do escape now and then to comment on 'rati because it's like my brain break, but not long enough for writing…beyond what I'm writing for work.

    And I agree with Louise that you need more time to settle into the rhythm of what you need to do (like get a timer on a sprinker for your garden?) and how to edit out stuff to give you more time. I think that's an ongoing exercise as David points out.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    My dear Pari

    Your committment to your craft has us all in awe – managing to still write every day while organising a superb Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe this year was astounding.

    I'll second Alex – some excellent advice, most important of all is to be gentle on yourself every now and again. You ARE a writer. Fact. It's in your heart and soul. Missing a day will not make it no longer so.

    I've made some major changes in my writing life recently – big upheaval changes – and I'm still holding my breath about some aspects. But I don't really have a routine – I never have had. I usually say I write in the cracks of everyday life and that still holds true. If I waited for the perfect moment, I would still be waiting. I make scribbled notes in pencil on scrap paper when I'm out and about, and plunge in when I'm back at my keyboard.

    As for a daily practice that's become important, you're already there. I walk – without a dog – it clears my mind and allows me to settle.

    So, my tuppence-worth. Do what you can, not what you think you should.

  15. Rae

    My world has gone Krakatoa on me a few times over the years. Dealing with the lava flows taught me one really important lesson / daily practice: you must take time for yourself every single day. Whether it’s five minutes or an hour, whether it’s watching Friends DVDs or writing, you need to do something just for you. For me, it keeps the stress level much closer to being manageable.

    I’m better at goals than I used to be. Which means: I have a few very general goals, but I cut myself some slack – if something doesn’t happen, or takes longer to happen that I want it to, I try to take an honest look at it. If I could’ve done something differently, I scold myself a bit and move on; if it was outside my control, I just move on. There are more than enough people barking at me already – I don’t need to be part of the canine chorus 😉

    Hang in there….

  16. Catherine

    Pari that comment about goals feeling external…I've felt this disconnect myself. I think it's like all the shoulds create a white noise to the soul.

    I get off track. I strive till I stutter to a halt trying for some crazy perfect state that I can attain every thing I ever considered worthy of having in my life… regularly. Then when I cut myself a break I center myself by reconsidering what my values are.
    My remedy spirals out from what values drive me. Looking inwards fuels me and recalibrates me.

    My routine shifts and changes, lurches and sways, but at the core is forward momentum fuelled by acting on what matters most to me.,, getting pen and paper out and having a relook at what matters to me most, and looking to see if I am acting in a way consistent with the person I want to be.

    After doing this again, recently I realized that one of the most caring things I can do for myself is to exercise in some way, daily. I'm at the point where 30 minutes is my goal. Anything else is gravy. I figure 30 minutes is the minimum that health professionals recommend. So I've set that as my bare minimum goal to care about myself. Does this mean that I actually do 30 minutes every day?

    Hell no. I try. Most days I do at least 30 minutes. Some days I double up. I do find walking a bit like active meditation. It’s energizing. I’m going to Yoga tonight for the first time in years. Although I love swimming I currently am finding it hard to fit into my schedule. I started to push to make it fit and then realized that I think it takes more energy to beat myself up than to be gentle with myself.

    I think after re-reading your post that you know how much writing means to you. Although you have a multitude of commitments to others, writing and creativity is a huge part of what drives you. I think you’re on the right track in recognizing it is the doing that matters to you, not the way of doing.

    Maybe your next July to July isn't so much what more can I do, but how can I maintain momentum in what matters to me most?

    Be gentle with yourself Pari.

  17. Reine

    Hi Pari,

    I am also in awe of your dedication to writing and ability to get something down every day. I do think, though, that Louise is right about cutting yourself some slack time for adjustment.

    I've had to make a radical adjustment to my schedule since having to take disability leave from work and school. Most of the help I've received in that area, I got/get from Rancho Los Amigos, USC Medical Center where they taught me how to pace my activities. It seems that it doesn't come naturally.

    Pacing for me, means rigid scheduling, organization, and discipline. At first it seemed harsh and to my family appeared pathologic. Now, however, they see how well it works for me and are very supportive. Before they were always telling me to relax and take a break. For someone with my personality that meant breaks became the norm. Scheduled into my day, however, they work to great advantage, and I have more up time than down. Now my husband is ill, and I have to rework my schedule to accommodate his needs. But I know better how to do that for myself now, and I will.

    Pari, you know I love your unique story lines and characters, and however you decide to attack the process, I do look forward to reading more.

  18. Pari Noskin

    Oh, my . . . thank you all for your comments.

    This is good advice. I seem to be doing just that without intending to. Perhaps letting myself chill out about it will reduce stress.

    Really? "Animus" and this description in the same comment: "You're like a squirrel that's almost been run over — perched at the side of the road, shaking it's head" — holy cow! But you're right, of course, on all counts.

    I am trying to take care. The exhaustion is impressive. Pari, meet squirrel. Squirrel, thy name is Pari.

    I find the daily practice of writing a little or a lot of fiction comforting somehow. It feels good. I don't know if I'd feel better stopping and am unwilling to do that right now.

    David's comment about keep rowing and set reasonable goals is a good yardstick by which to approach this.

    Wise advice about that elephant. I think that's what the daily writing is. So far I haven't imposed any other requirement, just the commitment to that one small thing.

  19. Pari Noskin

    Thank you. And thank you for the guilt pass. I was really feeling bad there.

    What can I say? STOP THE GUILT!!!? I want that for you even though I struggle with it myself. If you can enjoy your year, try to. Please. Please.
    And rather than going to a cafe, find a library. Then you won't be tempted to talk.

    Thank you. "Look in the mirror and hear me say, "You're all right, kid." Judy"
    Thank you for that.
    You know, I didn't think I sounded down in this post . . . but all of you are offering such loving advice. And I get the impression that I may have unreasonable expectations for myself in this moment.
    I'm going to look at this . . .

    Wise advice.
    I am a superb goal setter and have the capacity to make myself sick trying to accomplish them all. Now, in this moment, I am trying to be mindful of gentleness and "cutting myself slack." But it's a challenge for a one-time over-achiever.
    You should have heard the number I did on myself for not getting published by a major NYC house. Sheesh.
    Wise counsel about examining realistically what can and can't be done . . . um, like, trying to cover all of AZ and NM in a week or so 😉

  20. Jenni

    Ha! That's the thing about advice – so easy to give, so hard to follow even our own!! 🙂

  21. Pari Noskin

    I'll check that Artist's Way out; it might bring some balance. And I'm so sorry for the sorrow in your own life; I just learned of it recently. My heart goes out to you.

    Your days sound long and full. I'm so glad you find time to visit the 'Rati in the middle of all of it. Yes to David's comment. Yes to Louise's. This is a huge transition time.
    I think I need to remember to breathe. And the idea of editing out things I don't need to do sounds powerful . . .
    Thank you.

    "Do what you can, not what you think you should. " That's so simple it almost hurts. Thank you, m'dear.
    And for some reason, writing fiction before and during LCC was so much easier than doing it now. I think I've lost so much mental space time with a full-time job that I still haven't found the balance. It's early days. I will be gentle.

    I haven't been doing enough of this and it's important to build it in to my days — all of my days. Thank you for the reminder.

  22. Pari Noskin

    What a poetic response. Thank you. I think you've nailed what I'm coming to re a goal. Just maintaining the one I've been practicing, that's been bringing me joy, and finding center to drive forward. Yes.

    And I'm walking the dogs daily. One mile+ takes 1/2 hour and some days that's all I can do. I hope to be able to build in more time with that because it will make me feel better, but right now that's all I can do on weekdays.

    I'm sorry to hear about your husband.
    For some of us, a schedule is incredibly helpful. I do well with them, but tend to go overboard and at this phase in my life — with the added emotional crisis — I have to back off from that approach more than I would like.

    It feels like I'm having to create a new norm for myself, one unfamiliar. New territory. Pacing is a beautiful concept and one I haven't considered in this context. Thank you for that perspective.
    And thank you for your kind words about my writing/stories. I do plan to get the one novel that's really read up. Just to have something else out in the world rather than stuck on my computer alone.

  23. KDJames

    Pari, I'll try to keep this short. I kind of hope you're in bed sleeping and not reading this. I realize you didn't exactly ask for advice but, what the hell, what's one more voice in the maelstrom.

    First, just accept the fact that you're going to be crazy for two years. You'll think you're fine before that but, looking back, you'll see it — two years of pure crazy. It's okay.

    Second, the goal you set (and kept!) a year ago of writing Every Single Day is such an incredible accomplishment, I'm thinking most of us probably hate you just a little for managing it. Why on earth would you want to screw around with that? If it ain't broke, darlin'… Besides, at a time when everything else is in flux and chaos, isn't it nice to have that one familiar constant to cling to?

    Third, what everyone else said about cutting yourself some slack. Pick a different date, for godsakes. What's so special about July? I mean, other than blueberries. You'll set a new goal when you're ready for a new goal. Or it will find you. It might be for a year or for a lifetime. Just one of the many new freedoms you have now. Choosing.

    Fourth, rearrange your furniture. Really. Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

  24. Pari Noskin

    Bless you. I ended up going to be before 9 last night. Just too tired.

    1. TWO YEARS?????? Oh, crap.

    2. Yeah, that goal stays because it brings me more joy than stress.

    3. The advice I've received about cutting myself slack and not going looking for new goals is good. I HEAR all of you loud and clear.

    4. I did move some of the furniture. Am also painting vines in my bedroom . . . and will put some flowers up there on the walls too.

    Choosing? This is going to be something new. Choosing without having to compromise or consider someone else's sensibilities. Eventually, I think I'll find that piece liberating.

    Thank you.

  25. PD Martin

    Hi Pari and gang! I'm very late to this one but had a couple of comments….

    I'm also finding it hard to juggle paid work with writing at the moment. For about four years I was just doing MY writing, but this year I've found it necessary to pick up some corporate work and by the time I get that done…well, you know the story. My time also shrunk significantly in 2007 when I became a mother 🙂

    However, one thing I've found useful is 10K days. I'll actually blog about my experiences with them in a couple of weeks but in the meantime if you google 10k day you'll get the gist!


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