Tag Archives: Writing

When “why” is not helpful

So here’s the truth. I have not written any fiction during my gap year.

Non-fiction? Sure. Sunday Readers and entire courses… I’ve been absolutely prolific. But when it comes to my YA novel The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa, which is in its third draft, and After Everything which is only half-written… well, it’s crickets. Over the course of this school year I’ve distracted myself with a trip to Europe, three weeks in Nova Scotia, no fewer than four separate research obsessions and some spectacularly unproductive time on social media.

It’s a puzzle. I can’t say that I don’t have time. I do. I’ve never had this many hours a day that belong only to me.

So, of course, I wonder what the hell is happening. Am I paralyzed by the thought that it’s impossible to write the novel that lives in my head? Am I concerned that my work won’t be good enough to be published or that even if it is, the people in my life will whisper about how bad it is over tea and biscuits. Am I actually afraid to succeed?

One. None of these thoughts are helpful.
Two. I don’t know why I have NOT been writing when I REALLY want to write and the funny thing is that I’m a person who doesn’t normally hide from the truth about her life.

My energy has been really low this January; I feel like I’m hibernating. In the midst of this quiet time I read a post by coach Anna Kunnecke in which she wrote: “Consider January a time of gathering your powers.” Yes. I’ve been gathering my powers. Taking it slow. Then, a few days ago, I had a really interesting thought, a thought about which I’m still excited… what if the “why” doesn’t matter?

Yup. You read that right. What if the why doesn’t matter?

There are all kinds of things for which we never receive a satisfactory explanation. Why did a partner leave? Why did a beloved family member die? Why did a close friend stop returning our calls? These things are painful but even if we understood the reason, it probably wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m more interested in writing than I am in spending any more time trying to figure out why I’m not writing so I’ve decided to start asking myself “What next?” instead of “Why?”

What next?

  • I’ve decided not to embark on a radical re-write of The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa but to simply edit the novel to the best of my ability.
  • On Tuesday, I started a three-day editing retreat at a one-hundred-year-old house in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Hiro-o where I made my last set of edits to the novel.
  • When I’ve finished my edits, I’ll work with an editor and probably self-publish.
  • I’ve even chosen a pen name for my Young Adult novels that is easier to spell and pronounce than Monna McDiarmid: Mona McBride. {McBride is my mother’s maiden name and my cousin Mona McBride was a nurse in World War 2; I’m named after her.}
  • I’d like to publish before summer break and have a launch party in Tokyo… possibly at a diner that is the setting of a couple of scenes in the novel.
  • I’ve re-enrolled in the Coffee Shop Writers Group with Caroline Donahue for extra support and accountability.

I’m going to put this lovely story into the world and then I’m going to keep writing.

Is there anything in your life about which you could gently drop the why and get started on the what next?

I’m rooting for you, dear one.

 


This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these posts directly in your mailbox, every two weeks or so, you can subscribe here. I’d love for you to share this post with your tender-hearted, like-minded friends.

 

The Sunday Reader: Sakura Edition

The cherry trees in Yokohama and Tokyo have been slow to blossom this year. According to the people who know about such things, the trees may not blossom as fully as in other years because our winter was not cold enough and our spring has been very cold. I’m no scientist and I’m certainly not a cherry blossom expert but I feel enormous gratitude to these trees for whatever blossoms they offer us.

A friend and I were texting about the blossoms the other day (we take this stuff very seriously in Japan) and I wrote: “It’s okay if full bloom looks different this year. The trees don’t owe us anything.”

The truth is that I don’t always blossom fully.

In late March I started a writing course with Martha Beck and here is the poem I wrote In response to our Week #1 writing prompt:

Sakura

There was this time that I felt sad
but somewhere in that sadness
I suspected that my feelings
(my own precious feelings
that I’d spent a lifetime
learning to trust)
were lying.

How could that be?

With one eyebrow raised,
I turned towards my thoughts
which sometimes congregate
like a gang of thugs in the
darkest corner of my brain.
They looked embarrassed
as if they’d suddenly looked down
and found themselves naked
in Biology class.

Not so tough now.

I reached in and found
the sadness thought.
My inner wise-woman
held this thought up to the light,
pulled out her magnifying glass
and squinted, all truth-seeing.
That’s when the cracks showed up.
The fissures.
The fear
that caused the thought
that caused the sadness
in the first place.

For some time I carried
my Fearful Thought,
a small pitted seed,
in my pocket.
Several times a day
I sent it tiny love notes.
“Hello, dearest one.
I know why you’re afraid
and I know why you lied.
Patience, love.
Patience and peace.”

Walking home
from school one day
the Fearful Thought rustled
inside my pocket so I picked it up.
It was larger and had grown
a new green dress of moss.
The Fearful Thought whispered,
“I’m ready to be true.”

I planted the thought
at the base of a hill
where I could see it
every day and it grew
into a sapling and I sang
love songs as I went by.
“You’re doing such a good job growing.”
And the sapling drew
on all those good things,
the love and the sun and the rain,
and grew into a cherry tree.

At the end of March
each year, that tree
explodes with soft white truth.
The cherry blossoms dance
in the wind, each one connected
to the branch, each one surrounded
by joyful sibling-blossoms
that groove and sway
and call my name
as I walk home from school.

So I grew my truth like a sakura tree
and came to love my fear.

Of course, my hand was shaking as I hit “Post to Forum”. I wondered if anyone would read it or comment. I was seized with “not good enough” feelings which grew into regret which then morphed into something that felt a lot like panic.

Gently I called off my anxiety-induced take-off. I breathed deeply {inhale ~ exhale} and then followed my own damned advice.

“Hey, Monna. It’s not about how ‘good’ this poem is or how many people like it. This is you bravely and gently exploring your own inner life. This is about expressing what’s inside you. This is about making meaningful connections with other people through writing. As Brene Brown said, ‘The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.’ Your writing is about ME TOO. This is about you blossoming and there’s absolutely no way to do it wrong.”

There’s no way to do it wrong.

I spent a couple of hours reading and commenting on the gorgeous and astonishing writing of my fellow light-writers, more than 400 of them. It felt like dessert, like a hug, like sleeping in on a rainy Sunday morning.

There’s no way to do it wrong.

That’s also true about the Geography of Now.

Geography of Now begins Monday April 10th

Sunday is the last day to register for this online course and this will be the last time I offer the course in this way.

This course is for you if:
* You need an injection (or inoculation) of creativity in your life
* You’d like to pay more attention to the beauty all around you
* You want to take more photographs and go on some lovely photo-walks in your own neighbourhood
* You have a deep craving to write. (Please note that you can respond to the prompts with poetry OR prose.)
* You’d like to share your photos and writing in a super-supportive environment
* You want to practice gratitude

If you’re looking for a reawakening, here you go.

P.S.
This piece was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these letters, sent every second Sunday, directly in your email inbox, you can subscribe here.
 

Join me in the Geography of Now


 

Hello, lovely one.

Two years ago I created my first online course, Geography of Now. I’ve decided to run it one last time this Spring.

Geography of Now is six weeks in length and will run from Monday April 10th until Friday May 19th. Every weekday you’ll receive, via email, a lesson along with a photography or writing prompt. It’s completely up to you to decide which ones you’d like to complete; you’ll find the pace that’s best for you. All you need is the camera in your phone (or a fancier one if you wish) and your favourite combination of writing implements: journal/pen or computer. We’ll have a secret + private Facebook group where people can share their photos and writing + comment on the work of your classmates if you’d like. My very favourite thing about both Geography of Now and Poet Laureate is the community created by the people in the course. The cost of the course is 75 USD.

If you’ve been itching for a CREATIVE PROJECT,
if you’ve been feeling a little blah and need an INJECTION OF JOY,
or if you want to spend more time NOTICING and FEELING GRATEFUL,
this would be a lovely course for you.

This will be the last time I’ll run the course in this way. It may be available as a self-study but I think the magic of this program is in the alchemy the participants and I create in our shared space on Facebook.

Pop on over here to learn more about the course + sign up.

Please contact me if you have any questions about the course.

Cheers,
Monna
xo
 

Turtle Steps

Joy

Recently I’ve been making some changes. Let’s call them microchanges. It sounds less scary.

Over the past twenty years, we’ve worked at international schools in Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Thailand and Japan so it wouldn’t be SO crazy for you to think that I’d be really good at change. Comfortable at the very least. Masterful even. The truth is that I sort of suck. When it comes to structure and routine, I live at the very outer limits of what is possible for a person who has created a life overseas. That is to say that if I needed more structure, even the tiniest bit more, I could not have left home and thrived.

Right. So not so great at change.

Lately, however, Life has been tapping its foot with growing impatience. Life, as it turns out, does not like to be kept waiting and is not even remotely interested in my reluctance to change things up. Writing, in particular, has been behaving badly and kicking up a terrible fuss in the back seat of my life.

I have two Young Adult novel projects simmering in my creative-cauldron. The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa is on its 3rd draft and I’m currently writing the first draft of After Everything which began as my NaNo WriMo (National Novel Writing Month) novel last November. The story opens with a teenager named Claire who wakes up in a lush green field. She’s dressed in a long white nightgown that she senses she would never have chosen for herself and she doesn’t know where she is and she can’t remember how she got there… or anything else about her life. It turns out that she is dead.

So although I’m super excited about both stories, I’ve been feeling frustrated about not making much progress since January. “Not much progress” is a lie. It was no progress at all. In the place of actual writing, I had been just thinking about my novels which is not at all the same thing and does not get the job done.

I decided to make a change.

Are you at your best in the morning or late at night? For me, eleven o’clock at night sounds like a great time to START writing but that doesn’t allow me to get enough sleep to function during the work day. I am such a night owl, in fact, that I’ve always told myself a story in which I could not possibly get up any earlier. Because I need eight full hours of sleep, I had convinced myself that going to bed earlier would make me feel (not vaguely but PRECISELY) like a very old + very sad person.

But what if that story wasn’t true?

So I set my alarm clock for six o’clock instead of seven o’clock. If you are an early riser, try to be compassionate about this because, for me, six o’clock is still the middle of the night. When I woke up to my alarm the first day, I got right out of bed and went to grab my computer from my knapsack only to realize that I hadn’t brought it home from school so, instead, I wrote in a journal with pink flamingoes on the cover. And the words just poured out of me, ten pages of words, and I thought, “Shit. This is magical.” And I am not gonna lie, I was tired at two o’clock in the afternoon and getting into bed at nine o’clock that night was not magical but it was okay. So I wrote in my journal for three mornings in a row and I tried not to think about the question of when I would type up these pages and how long that task would take. Then, on the fourth morning, I tried writing on my laptop and I had a hard time getting started so I stared at the ceiling for a while and then that got boring so I started writing. And what I write between six and seven is not always eloquent prose but sometimes it is and the plot keeps marching forward with courage and assurance and the characters keep doing interesting things and Claire is even more rebellious than I imagined and I have enormous patience for her neuroses and fear and I love her like a parent might love a child. And one morning, when I awoke at six o’clock, I realised that I didn’t feel well so I re-set my alarm clock for seven o’clock and I slept soundly for that extra hour and had a good day at work and I didn’t let myself freak out or worry that I had messed it all up. I just chose not to believe that. The next day, when the alarm went off, I got up and wrote.

Since I began my early morning writing, I read about what Martha Beck calls “turtle steps” or small steps in the direction of your dreams. That was exactly what I was doing. I didn’t quit my job or begin writing for six hours a day, forsaking all fun things in my life; I simply adjusted my schedule slightly to include one hour of writing every morning. On the round table at my office there is a wooden turtle I bought in Bali several years ago and I’ve started to look at him differently in these past few weeks. Wise old turtle. And I’ve been wondering what else I could take some turtle steps towards.

Then, a few days after encountering the idea of “turtle steps”, I was listening to a podcast where the interviewee shared a quote by Donald Miller: “Turn your toes towards the thing that you are afraid to pursue.” That resonated too. Sometimes we’re afraid to pursue the things we most want so we keep getting in our own way, making up excuses and unhelpful stories. We need to turn our toes ever so slightly.

As of today, I have written 25,000 words of After Everything. Of that total, I have written 15,000 of those words over the last two weeks, in the hours between six and seven o’clock in the morning.

Although I’m a pretty confident person, I did not know that I could do that. I had told myself a story that was holding me back. And that story, as it turns out, is just not true.

We should not believe everything we think.

Taking the turtle steps in writing this novel has made me giddy and hopeful. I’m also taking turtle steps to give up caffeine. It’s not sexy but it’s good.

So I wondered, lovely one, what stories are getting in your way… and what turtle steps might you take to get you closer, little by little, to something that would fill you with joy?

Cheers,
Monna

P.S.
This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. To receive The Sunday Reader directly in your inbox every two weeks, you can subscribe here.

I’d love it if you would share this post.
 

On Starting and Stopping. {The End of Poetry}

Hiroo

On Tuesday 4th of August I stopped writing poetry.

It wants to be dramatic like that, doesn’t it?

In the middle of February 2015, I started a daily poetry project quite by accident. I had been writing poems almost every day, they came without effort or planning, and I began to wonder what it would be like to write a poem every day. Not just every day, but every day for year. “Why not?,” I thought. I had lots of ideas and lots to say. By writing every day, my writing would improve. And I love the form that poetry takes… the rhythmic pops and weaves, the hard kernels at the bottom of the paper bag of meaning, the small sparkling somethings from a regular day in a regular life in Yokohama, Japan or New York City or Ottawa, Canada. And so I began, poem by poem, to map out my world and the people and emotions I encountered there.

And it was good.

I shared these poems on my blog and on my Facebook page and people let me know, with their words, which poems they loved and, with their silence, which ones hadn’t worked so well for them. But I was not put off by the silence. Every poem found its readership even if that was just one. One Damien or Spike or Jessie or Aynne or Ashley or even myself. The world of a poem is not greedy. It does not demand more space than you can afford. It can be as small as one idea jotted on a Starbucks napkin and folded into small squares in your pocket. A marble of a poem. A one yen coin.

And even though I traveled, this summer, to Bangkok and then to New York and then to Ottawa and then to a cottage I had rented with my family, and even though I experienced a passport mishap (entirely my fault) and the subsequent high velocity issuing of a temporary passport, the poems still came, more or less every day, without stress or worry.

This was also a summer in which I’d decided to take a break from social media. Primarily Facebook and Twitter although, in truth, I have never understood how Twitter works. I feel like Twitter is social media’s great black hole and everything I put there just disappears. So taking a break from Twitter was no great loss but being away from Facebook took a lot of discipline on my part. And then not so much.

And I got to the part of my summer when I was surrounded by other writers, many of them truly lovely people (like kindred-spirit-lovely), and they were sharing their words and images freely, madly and something in me just shut off. Two somethings, actually. The creative something in me that writes the poems and takes the photos, and the courageous something in me that doesn’t overthink the sharing. That one that just jumps. She’s a sparkly bit, that one.

When you write a poem every single weekday, you get to a point where you are just going to tell the truth. Whatever the truth happens to be. This is both uncomfortable and inconvenient. Not nice. It felt not nice to have these true and distinctly unlovely things to be working through and to be faced with the task of producing a poem from those thoughts every day.

There are people who write about the darkness. Stephen King, God bless him. Stieg Larsson. People who have purchased their Writing Palace in a dark realm. That’s not the neighbourhood for me. I’m a real estate agent for the light ~ committed to helping people find the light and then live there.

So I stopped writing poems every day. I did feel a bit guilty at first. I considered writing eight more so that I could claim I had written six months’ worth of daily poems. (We’re such fragile, vain creatures, aren’t we?) But I did not write eight more. I began writing notes on scraps of paper and in my fuchsia pink moleskin and on my phone… notes about what I saw and felt and how all of those things fit together or do not.

With each poem-less day, I thought more about my novel The 37 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa. Six months ago I completed a shitty first draft. Two months ago, a friend gave me brilliant notes for some next steps. Now, in the absence of daily poems, I am working my way back to that world, to writing a second draft and then a third and as many as it takes to put that story into your hands.

And that makes me really, really happy.

This morning, in Tokyo, I started typing a poem into my phone. It’s about an old woman and a much younger man sitting on a bench in the rain and the art of sitting still and how beauty is God in the world. This is the poem I want to write.

Maybe I’ll share it.

What would you like to start if you could?

What would you like to stop?
 

What is the Geography of Now?

What is GON

Registration opened today for the Geography of Now.

This six-week eCourse begins on Monday 11th of May. There are 25 spaces available in the class.

In the end-of-course survey, I ask participants to define what this course is. The responses to this question have made me giddy with joy and, more importantly, I believe these insights may help you if you are thinking about taking the course.

The Geography of Now is…

“An amazing 6-week online course where you get an email Monday to Friday with a short discussion and an assignment to photograph things, write about them, think about them and become more aware of your surroundings.” ~ Mary Wallace

“The yoga of creativity.” ~ Cheri Rauser

“A safe and thorough exploration in gradual, thoughtful, do-able exercises to stretch and explore different themes in writing about self, other, present moment, photographs, beauty, aspiration and play. A very well organised, fun journey of self exploration and online community support. Hats off to Monna for her beautiful design, and effervescent vigilance with our March 2015 group. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience.” ~ Jenna McAsey

“The Geography of Now is a course in daily reflection and mindfulness. It helped me to look at my local area with new eyes – kinder and more adventurous.” ~ Anita Wadsworth

You can learn more about the course and register here.

I love this course; it’s the online class I’ve always wanted to take!

 

Geography of Now starts March 9th

GONStarts9March

To be at home
where you are,
to notice,
to photograph,
to write,
to feel grateful.
To fall back in love
with your life.

That’s the Geography of Now.

The course starts on Monday March 9th.

Learn more here.