1000 Words a Day for 90 Days

Challenges

It’s shocking to realize I’ve only posted one full length blog here since the new year. Between committing to working harder in real estate, the work I’ve been doing with the Huichol Indians, and my outstanding ability to fritter away time in the great outdoors surfing, it’s been a busy year for sure, but there’s no excuse for how little writing I’ve accomplished so far this year. Now however, thanks almost exclusively to Andrew Scot Bolsinger, I’m taking steps to change that. All you need to know about Scot is that his website address effinartist.com kicks ass, he kicks ass, and thanks to him, I’m starting to kick some writerly ass. Okay that and that he’s a writer, editor, coach, activist, and felon. Go, read his bio now.

So how did Scot and I meet so that he could kick my writerly ass? We didn’t. At least not face to face. Scot and I both volunteered at the San Francisco Writers Conference in February (as I have every year since 2011), but when our paths crossed he didn’t have a moment to stop and chat because he was volunteering to be the conference organizer’s personal slave, er, I mean, assistant.

I should mention that I almost didn’t go to the conference this year because I didn’t want to have to look the same people in the eye whom I see every year and tell them I still didn’t have my book done, not even a first draft. I was deeply ashamed of my lack of progress and told myself I would not allow myself to feel like that again when SFWC 2016 rolled around. So like every year I attend the conference, I tried once again to hook up with someone (get your mind out of the gutter Mom!) to be accountability partners. I would offer to read their stuff and they’d read mine and we’d agree to keep after one another to produce regularly until we got our first draft done. But the end of the conference came and I still didn’t have my accountability partner. I was frustrated and my butt hurt from the ass-kickings received when I fessed up about my lack of progress to the people who’ve been my cheerleaders all these years.

So the day after the conference, as I took stock of my writing or minimum quantity thereof, I received an email from this mysterious Andrew Scot Bolsinger person, whom I’d never heard of. And low and behold, it was as if the Universe heard my prayers, he up and invited me to join a non-fiction writers group. I was so astounded by this manna from heaven I had to read the email twice. How on Earth did this guy even know who I was? And did he know he was answering my writerly prayers? The email was kind and encouraging and made me feel like I was being asked to join an exclusive and special group of writers organized by an exclusive and special editor, award-winning writer, coach/cheerleader (for now let’s just forget the felony part). And that is precisely what it was. To top it off, not only had Scot pulled together a group of eight motivated writers of varying backgrounds and experience, he also got Michael Larsen, experienced literary agent and founder of the SFWC, to join us and provide feedback. Wow! (The other “wow” is that Skype makes it possible for me to join a group that meets in San Francisco all the way from Baja, Mexico).

But the story doesn’t end there. Not only did my productivity increase as I pulled together material to submit to the group for critique in April, but Scot also offered his assistance as a regular butt kicker, a.k.a accountability partner and cheerleader. Only thing is, he doesn’t need anyone to make him accountable, except maybe where his yoga practice is concerned. But man, do I need someone to kick my ass regularly. And he’s been more than happy to do that. But it was what he did three days ago when I sent him an SOS email telling him my productivity was in the can again that made all the difference in the world. He suggested I just make time to write 1000 words, “today.”

It’s said that Jack London, one of the most prolific writers of all time, wrote 1000 words every day regardless of his location, health, or responsibilities. I’ve always rolled my eyes a little when I hear another writer referencing this fact. But the reality is that between 1900 and 1916 London finished over 50 fiction and non-fiction books, hundreds of short stories and numerous articles. Fifty books in sixteen years! And the only reason he stopped was because he died (OMG, do you think writing all those books killed him?!) To someone who’s been struggling for over six years to complete one work of non-fiction writing all those books sounds pretty freaking miraculous.

I’d played with the idea of committing to the 1000 words a day program, but I always came up with excuses why I couldn’t do it. Frankly I was pretty sure I’d fail. I didn’t think I could possibly find time to write that many words every day. A 1000-word blog post can take me the better part of a day to complete, several hours minimum. But at this point Scot wasn’t asking me to do it every day, he just asked me to do it that day. So I agreed. But then he did something really remarkable. He didn’t leave me an out. He told me I had to send him the 1000 words. To which I responded:

oh fuck…you really are going to hold me accountable…

Yup, that’s what accountability partners do.

So I wrote those 1000 words, dammit! And you know what? I wrote them in under an hour because there were waves and I wanted to go surf more of those waves because I’m a wave junkie and a wave junkies can never get enough waves. And even though I vomited those 1000 words onto the page, they weren’t, according to Scot, complete drivel. They were certainly far from being my best work, but they were comprehensible and they got me over the hump on a chapter I’ve been pulling my hair out on for months (um, yeah, that’s ‘cause it’s the chapter where I describe losing my virginity).

Then another miracle occurred. Getting those 1200 odd words down on the page in such short measure inspired me to write again the next day, but this time 3800 words were the result! Yeah, I know, holy chit batman! Almost four Jack-London-writing-days in one sitting. And now here I am on the 900th word of a 1000-word blog that will fulfill the third day in a row of the 1000-Words-a Day Challenge (924, 925, 926…yeah, I could finish this blog post just counting out the numbers, but I don’t want to! I have important stuff to say here man!!). Oh yeah, so Scot also introduced the writers group to the Alcoholics Anonymous idea of “90 in 90.” That is, repeating something 90 days in a row to establish new habits and discipline. He generously offered to be our cheerleader on that as well.

So the bottom line is this – I’m writing this blog post to share with you my pledge to myself. Here it is:

I commit to writing a minimum of 1000 words every day for the next 90 days. I will focus these words on my memoir principally, but allow for a maximum of one blog post per week. I will not allow the lure of good surf, good food, good wine or even good sex with a surfing wine-drinking gourmet chef to dissuade me from writing those words. I state it here for all to see: There is no excuse for not writing those 1000 words because it takes less than an hour to write them. I pledge to write more than 1000 words on the days when I am moved to do so and in order to make up for all the time I’ve lost not writing 1000 words a day until now. And furthermore, I pledge to do my darnedest, write as many words as I need to write to have the first draft of my memoir completed by July 31st, 2015.

That’s write, I mean, right. This is my pledge. [dramatic arm-flourishing bow]

I invite you to drop me an email any old random day to ask me if I’ve met my word commitment yet that day. I also hope that if I don’t meet that commitment to myself, you’ll come a kickin’ with your shit-kicking ass kickers to set me straight. And I hope you’ll celebrate with me, when I report that I have. My success is your success, my failure…well, that’s something I gotta own all on my own.

[Whew! 1487 words!! Jumps up and down arms held high in the air Rocky-Balboa-style]

San Francisco Writers Conference Delivers Inspiration

It can be tough to remain inspired to put word to page when you live at the end of the road, off-the-grid, with only six dogs and an illiterate Mexican caretaker to keep you company. Two years ago, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference and was inspired beyond expectation. For the past two years, I’ve vowed to return for another injection.

Each time, however, as I gazed longingly at that year’s offerings, it became obvious I couldn’t afford it. After a couple of months during which my brain was fogged with fantasies of unexpected windfall, I recalled meeting someone at the 2010 conference who worked as a volunteer.  I didn’t know what was involved, but figured it was worth exploring the possibilities.  I quickly ascertained that I was eligible and filled out the application form. And that was it. I was in like Flynn.

And I was not disappointed. Organizers of the conference this year once again succeeded in putting on an event that managed to inspire, educate and excite me. The three days were jam-packed with keynote speeches and break-away sessions covering everything from refining your craft to the specifics of how to find an agent, an editor, to getting published, the ins and outs of self-publishing, self-editing, and much more. Additional workshops open to the public were offered by the San Francisco Writers University all day Monday. Outside of active conference hours and volunteer duties there were opportunities to mix it up with some of the country’s (if not the world’s) best writers, agents, editors and publishers.

For those who were ready, there was the opportunity to pitch projects to agents representing big name authors like Sara Gruen, Garth Stein, David Guterson and Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil. Despite not actively seeking them out, at social gatherings a few agents I stumbled across asked me what I was working on, giving me a chance to try out the pitch I’d hurriedly penned hours earlier in the back of my notebook on them. Their feedback, on both the pitch and the project itself, were invaluable.

I booked a session to have professional headshots made by Mark Bennington of Bennington Headshots. I approached Mark’s booth feeling timid and unsure of myself, but Mark quickly put me at ease. Furthermore, the quality of his work on display convinced me that I was in good hands. His enthusiasm and positivity during the actual shooting helped me relax and feel confident, all of which translated to the results, which I believe speak for themselves.

There were ample opportunities to make contacts and for one-on-one interaction with agents and publishers. Each night a no-host dinner was held at one of the excellent local restaurants within walking distance of the venue to which presenters and attendees were invited. On Saturday night an open mic session that was part poetry slam, part literary reading was held at the conference venue. Poets were accompanied by musicians on drums, guitar and saxophone giving the event a Beat/ Gingsbergesque aura. Published authors and neophytes alike were welcome to present. The quality of the offerings was, to understate it, awe-inspiring. By that I mean that every time someone got up and presented my mouth literally hung agape in amazement at the beauty of the work presented.

Inspired? [using my best John Wayne voice] You bet your sweet caboose I am. I’m already planning to volunteer again next year. Will you join me?

My Love Affair with Henry

Okay, so you may or may not have noticed that yesterday’s post was an attempt at writing that is more “literary” than I customarily undertake. It was also a rather blatant salute to one of my favorite authors – Henry Miller.

A couple of things induced yesterday’s little writing exercise. First off, this past weekend, I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. (It was amazing by the way. Both inspiring and informative. So many interesting people with stories to tell and a whole slew of editors, agents and publishers to get great guidance and assistance from. I met my hero, Alan Rinzler, who edited several Hunter S. Thompson books and published Rolling Stone magazine, among a mountain of other accolades. Somehow I managed to untie my tongue long enough to tell him I was a big fan of his blog for writers. I recommend it highly to aspiring writers like me out there looking for guidance and ideas.) But I digress.

At the end of the conference we had the opportunity to join a group of conference attendees and organizers for an evening of literary delights. First an incredible, authentic Chinese dinner at the Lechee Gardens restaurant on Powell near Broadway (literary? maybe not, but certainly a delight). After which we visited City Lights Book Store, the original home of work by Beat writers like Allan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouak. City Lights opened in San Francisco’s North Beach in 1953, by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It is iconic.

The second inspiration for yesterday’s blog occurred when we toddled down the street to the Beat Museum where they were celebrating the life and work of Henry Miller. Coincidence? I think not. We were treated to readings and anecdotes by Magnus Toren of the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur…whom as chance would have it, I happened to already be acquainted with.

My love affair with Henry Miller began in 2002, when driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on my way to Mexico, I stopped in at the Henry Miller Library, meeting Magnus and, more importantly became more intimately acquainted with Mr. Miller. I’d read excerpts of Miller over the years, but had never read one his books in its entirety (yes, I’m looking down at the ground rather ashamedly, but bear in mind I’m Canadian). I fell in love with his Notice to Visitors and decided I had best familiarize myself with at least one of his books – Big Sur and the Oranges of Heironymus Bosch seemed the natural choice.

Once I arrived at my destination in Mexico, I began. I read Miller on the beach, in my trailer, sitting on the hill above the village, and drinking coffee in El Caballero, a local restaurant. This book with such a long and ungainly title resonated with me much like his Notice to Visitors had. I felt like he was right there, talking to me, sharing his tales of living in Big Sur. And what timely subject matter! His Big Sur was my Cabo Pulmo – we were both isolated, broke, with time to spare and good friends, surrounded by a cast of characters almost unbelievable in their eccentricities. I was a convert.

Miller broke the literary rules of his day. He wrote about a huge range of subjects from everyday things like bread, to philosophical issues and sexual liberation. It took some 12 years between when he began to write and the publication of his first novel. From this little factoid, I must say I took great heart to know that even a great author like Henry Miller needed time to develop his craft.

A copy of the anthology Henry Miller On Writing wriggled its way into my hands at the Beat Museum and begged to be taken home. Always the push over, I gave in easily. Together we’re bound for Mexico tomorrow, along with copious conference notes and a barrow full of inspiration.

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