Happy Little Writer Sarah, Words for Food

Shake it Off: Finding Whimsy Again

I’ve been writing for decades. I’ve been writing in some professional capacity for ten years. I have never faced what I would term “writer’s block” until this spring.

Let me be clear: I procrastinate. Sometimes it is hard to sit in the chair. There are times when I  would rather be taking a run or joining my friends at the brewery or binge-watching Netflix.

That is NOT what happened this spring.

I sat in the chair faithfully, every day. I had a looming deadline, and so I sat at my desk and stared at a blank piece of paper. Sometimes I’d get so far as a paragraph written, but upon re-reading, it was nonsensical. What was in my head wasn’t translating through my hand correctly; it was a garbled mess. The more I tried, the harder it got.

This, my friends, is writer’s block.

18 months ago I left my full-time job to pursue writing full time. It took a great deal of convincing and planning and then just straight-up moxie to do it. It took a great deal of vulnerability and trust to let my husband financially support my art. But the more I produced, the more writing gigs I got, the more pieces were published, the more I was affirmed–you made the right choice.

When the words dried up, I began to spiral into an ugly web of self-doubt and low self-worth. The voices in my head told me I’d made a mistake, that it had been irresponsible to leave a steady income for this writing nonsense, who was I kidding anyway?  

The voices, incidentally, are a mixture of the teacher that mocked my work when I was young, a super judgmental colleague that once brought me to tears and the ex that referred to me as unbelievably stupid. The louder the voices grew, the harder it was to find words.

I’d always viewed writers block as laziness. Procrastination. I’m from good German stock and was brought up with a work ethic that insisted that one work until the job is completed (and in satisfactory fashion, we don’t half-ass anything). Then you can play. I’d always applied this same work ethic to my writing.

Unfortunately, writing, while three-quarters hard work and tenacity, is also a quarter childlike whimsy. Writers are first and foremost storytellers, and when you step away from the joy that is telling the story, then you’ve lost what makes good writing, well, good.

I began, with the help of some pretty great book-teachers, to reconnect with my what was purely fun about writing. I listened to my body. As anyone who has trained for anything knows, there is a fine line between pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into a place of new achievement and over-training. Over-training can do  way more harm than good. I believe my writing self needs to be given the same treatment my running self got when I was training for marathons. I wrote until it was no longer fun–some days that meant just ten minutes. I wrote what sounded like fun to write, even though it had nothing to do with my looming deadline. I took long walks, I read, I watched great movies and went to see local art.

Eventually, it began to work. My whimsical writer-self came began to emerge. I do my best to listen to her voice even when the other voices speak louder. It continues to take practice.

I have found–and am continuing, every day, to find new ways to loosen myself up. And, I’m hoping to share what I’ve learned. I’m hosting several workshops this fall about how to shake off the writer’s block.

Please join me Wednesday evenings from 6-8, September 14 and 21st at the Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts. Class is $45 or $40 for members. Register here!

Happy Little Writer Sarah, Words for Food

War of Words


Rainier Valley Lit Crawl at Flying Lion Brewery–community and words in action!

I started a whole bucketload of new stuff in the last 90 days, because why change one thing when you can change EVERYTHING? In January I started wrangling the marketing and social media for my terrific friends at Team Diva Real Estate–I thought I was pretty hip to the social media but WHOA. Much to learn. On the opposite end of the writing spectrum, I also started an MFA program in Creative Writing. Talk about two very different types of writing–but the awesome, stupendous, high-fiving, ass-slapping amazing thing about it is that I am writing all. the. damn. time. Words are coming out of my ears and I could not be happier about that.

Getting adjusted to letting go of the non-profit world was both as easy as breathing and complicated. I have a bit of a save-the-world complex, so I’m still working on how to save the world from where I now sit. After a few months of letting the dust settle, I’m realizing this–the intersection of words and community and learning and social change is where I find fulfillment. The power of language to impact and change the status quo in our neighborhoods, our communities and beyond is magnificent.

Which brings me to this little article that’s made a lot of noise lately. A writer in Seattle wrote an article that essentially shames MFA programs and the participants in them and read sort of like a two-year-old in the grocery aisle throwing a tantrum that you can’t look away from. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes:

  • If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re not a real writer and will probably fail.
  • If you complain about not having time to write, please do us both a favor and drop out.
  • If you aren’t a serious reader (and this is qualified by those who have read The Great Gatsby and those who haven’t), don’t expect anyone to read what you write.
  • Memoirists are narcissists who are simply using writing as therapy.
  • Stop trying to sound smart.
  • It’s important to woodshed.

There were a whole bunch of responses posted. I’m linking the ones I think are worth reading herehere, here and here. This guy, Ryan Boudinot, is also the Executive Director of the Seattle City of Literature, and since his article stirred the pot so much, he’s been asked to step down from his post, which he declined to do (does anyone else think that this on it’s own is indicative of something about his character?), stating that the organization’s Board of Directors and the community as a whole was imposing a dangerous censorship upon his opinion and writing.

I have thought a great deal about this article and the subsequent responses over the last few weeks. I agree with a lot of what he said. I also roll my eyes at self-absorbed narcissistic memoirs that seem to be a dime a dozen these days. I also want to shake anyone that complains about “too much reading” or “not having time to write.” It is absolutely true that something like 1% of us will actually be remembered as writers fifty years from now. (Incidentally, that’s not why I’m in an MFA program or why I write. I am there because I can’t NOT write and I want to do it better, be around more people that are better than me and soak up as much concentrated writing knowledge as I possibly can. Will I be paying off my student loans until I die? Yes. The investment is worth it). All that said, I still ultimately think he’s both a pretentious asshole and not very good at being the leader of an organization that is supposed to represent a major metropolitan area.

But here’s why I ultimately feel compelled to comment.

I am a self-described rabble-rouser. To not address this would be shirking my obligation as such. I believe in the power of language to both divide and unite. This a call to action for myself.

Writing, like so many of the arts, has long been an elite activity reserved for those who had enough money and power and leisure to enjoy it. And yet, when the arts–writing, music, storytelling–was/is engaged in by those who are disempowered, it is incredibly, deliciously world-changing.

Ryan Boudinot’s article smacks of that elitism. IMG_3313

I want to be the kind of writer, educator and community member who does not put up walls, but breaks them down. I want my community to be conducive to all the writers. I want my little blocks of Hillman City, my beloved Seattle, and the rest of the world to lift up the use of words to tell a killer story, to have the openness to forever learning how to do it better, and that will bit by bit change the world.

Happy Little Writer Sarah, Journey, menagerie, Uncategorized, Words for Food

Culture Shock.  

It’s taken me two weeks to really get readjusted. Yet another thing I’ve never done before, this adjustment back–like grieving where you’ve been, its uniqueness and how impossible it is to both explain and replicate.

I returned from my month-long writing retreat in Ireland to a whole new ballgame. Really, it’s like I was playing golf and now I’m playing cricket.

I left my nonprofit work with a hard stop, spent four quiet weeks hibernating in the hills with the cows and kitties and fairies. And then I returned and within a week had a new gig as a social media/marketing wrangler, a new professional identity as a freelance writer, said the words “I’m working on my novel” out loud, put finishing touches on MFA applications, re-budgeted, reassessed, reconsidered…recovered from a kick ass headcold…

Here’s what I miss about my Ireland adventure:

Peppers--the writing annex, where everyone knew my name and what I was working on.

Peppers–the writing annex, where everyone knew my name and what I was working on.

  •  Druid Cottage
  • Brown bread
  • 2 hour-long walks in the country
  • Peat fires, specifically mine.
  • Silence
  • Simplicity—from food to routine, everything was barebones, accoutrement free
  • Walking into Peppers and feeling like I belong
  • Wind howling around the eves of my cottage making me feel strangely secure and cozy inside.
  • Not ever knowing what day it was or what time it was.

Here’s what I am so glad to come home to:

Here goes...

Here goes…

  • My menagerie
  • My new (fully functioning!) oven and it’s various culinary adventures (which may or may n to include baking brown bread).
  • OAK! The best burgers in Seattle. The best cozy winter bar. Happiness abounds.
  • Public transit (yes, really—it’s nice to not have to drive everywhere)
  • The right side of the road.
  • My new gig with these fun, creative, shit-kicking folks, Team Diva Real Estate. Taking buying, selling and renting to a whole new level. I love their commitment to relationships, neighborhoods, to knowing the quirkiest spots, to snark and pink.
  • IPA’s, especially this one. Guinness is oh, so good, but I’m a Northwesterner at heart.
  • Esquin and the Saturday wine tasting—what you’ve never been to Esquin? Best wine shop in Seattle. Nicest staff. Best back room with phenomenal deals.
  • A new adventure as a freelance writer (stay tuned)