Embracing the Tortoise Writing Life

6Tp6R4AkcTortoiseAUGusethisConfession: When I started meeting with my critique group and attending writing workshops, I envied how quickly others answered questions, gave on-the-spot feedback, and completed manuscripts. Everyone sounded so clever, eloquent, insightful. I felt like the slow study, as I multitasked between listening, jotting notes and figuring out, “what was the question?” and “what did she say?” My insecurity took me back to grade school days when teachers said, “She’s a daydreamer, always off task, staring off in space…”

Today, I laugh and am incredibly grateful for my attentive graduate school advisor who helped me discover my learning disability, slow logical processing, which makes it difficult to track conversations, follow instructions, and, as my husband and friends will attest, keep track of time. No wonder, I journaled my way through school, never finished books, and loved wandering (and still do)!

I can’t imagine life without journaling and writing. The past year, my writing has been my truth mirror, my reality check. I’ve realized, Okay, so you’re slow…so what if you take much longer (to write, revise, critique) than your peers. Then, “the” truth hit me: my frustration with my slowness is not because of my learning style, it’s because I compare myself to others. It’s my ego. Big sigh. Or, as Natalie Goldberg says, “it’s just resistance…it’s me battling myself.”

When I embrace and sink into my tortoise shell, I’m totally lit. I’m curious and sparked. I sing and dance. I’m me. I just have to trust myself. I have to trust and practice ancient wisdom about the tortoise – they carry all they need on their back and remind us to make good use of our abundance.

Thanks to my critique group and author-teacher-mentors, I’ve found abundant tools that reel me in and stimulate my writing practice. I rely on them. Of course, I still get stuck in the mud, but it’s getting easier to pick up my tools, put them on my back and start again.

Here are the tools that keep my writing and revising on track, slowly and steadily.

  • Set a timer. I put my cell phone in another room and set the timer for 50-60 minutes of writing or revising. Then, I re-set it for a 15-minute break and repeat. When time is limited, I set the timer for a 15-20 minute session (even if that’s all I can do that day).
  • Start anywhere. Who said I have to write and revise in order? One week, I may work on the middle of my YA, the next week, I dive into the last chapter. I follow my gut and lately, my main character.
  • Type your purpose for each chapter. I started doing this in revision #1 of my YA – type a set of questions above each chapter and answer them before digging into the chapter. It’s like holding a magnifying glass to my work; it pushes me (big time!) to hone in and tightly focus on the purpose of each chapter. The first question I answer: What does your main character want or need at the beginning of this scene? I learned this technique in award-winning children’s author Denise Vega’s workshop, “Crafting Compelling Scenes in Your MG/YA Novel”. (Find out more about Denise’s classes at https://lighthousewriters.org & www.denisevega.com.)
  • Leave it and move on. When I’m completely stuck or can’t figure out a word, sentence, or entire paragraph, I just leave it. I insert a parenthetical sentence or question mark in blue. I move on and do not return to the blue lines till my next revision.
  • Go outside. Walking around my yard or eating lunch on my patio clears my head and rekindles creative, positive thoughts. On a long walk this summer, I videotaped birds flying from branch to branch and poof, it hit me: move my main character out of her neighborhood, put her on a bus, get her out of her comfort zone…
  • Switch things up. When my writing feels blah, I switch to longhand and let it rip. Or, I lay out big sheets of paper and markers on the floor and play – mapping out a family tree, drawing my main character’s bedroom, etc.
  • End each session with a question or thought. Regardless of where I end each session, I try to type (in red) a list of questions or thoughts. Usually, it’s a part I can’t figure out or need to research. This one’s tough for me, since I jump around, but wow, it reels me in!
  • Be gentle with yourself.

What reels you in and helps you stay steady and on track with your writing?

The tortoise crawled on
Slow and steady was his pace.
He was determined

–The Hare and the Tortoise Storytime Song by Shauna Tominey



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