10 Things, or Getting Back into the Habit of Writing: Slice of Life #sol18

I always have lots of plans for summer writing. Stacks of new notebooks and the only pens I can write with. A couple of free professional development writing opportunities that should keep me in writing ideas and inspirations (#100DOSW18, Teachers Write). A lack of other obligations and time commitments that makes writing sound appealing and indulgent.

But then….. it just doesn’t happen. It’s not unusual to go back to school in August, open my notebook on the first day in my Composition class, and find that the last date I wrote was sometime back in June. Or even May.

I’ve come to believe I need a few fallow periods during the year, times of rest before and after productivity. I used to feel like a bad writer, or not a writer at all, for taking unscheduled time off. Why didn’t I want to write? How could I–seemingly overnight–lose a daily habit I’d worked so hard to build?

But now I think it’s just part of my process, part of the shape of my year. I used to worry during these fallow periods that I was done, maybe I’d never write again, but now I trust–more or less–that the desire to write will return. I’ll pick up my notebook to write again and it will be just like picking up with an old friend I haven’t seen in awhile.

A few nights ago, after the TV was turned off and I’d read for a few minutes to my son and he had fallen asleep on the couch, I crept out to the porch with my cats and my notebook and settled into a chair. I suddenly felt like writing again.

Over a month had passed between entries. I was a bit sad to think of all that I hadn’t captured in my notebook during that month. The trees I ogled in Balboa Park. The research on lorikeets and okapi and servals and tapirs from interests sparked by the San Diego Zoo. The sunrises and sunsets I didn’t describe. The beauty of Utah I didn’t note. The stories of cats at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary I wanted to remember. The teaching plans I made driving for 21 hours there and 21 hours back.

But that was gone, and this was now. Where to start after such a long lay-off? Where I always start, right here in this moment.

There’s a thunderstorm predicted and a flash food warning. I am sitting on the porch, which I cleaned and reorganized today, and the breeze is just beginning to stir the air and there is lightning behind me that occasionally illuminates the page.

I have sat on the porch in the dark for twenty or thirty minutes, capturing my day in lists of 10 things, a blog structure I occasionally use and always love reading. I’ve never used it in a notebook before, and I don’t know why. I often give myself length or time challenges–write for ten minutes, write three pages–in my notebook, but I’ve never given myself a number of thoughts or observations I need to have. One night, it took nearly an hour to come up with 10 things. Last night, it took barely 10 minutes.

The weather and cats and yoga and reading and the fading light that I can’t see the page by are always good for at least five observations. Entries in the lists of 10 range from one line (about a glorious pile of new library books) to four pages (about Sara Ahmed’s book, Being the Change, which I am hoping to turn into a blog post for final #cyberPD reflections).

The handwriting is hard to read when I open the book in the light. If I’m interrupted and lose my place, I sometimes have to simply turn the page and start fresh to avoid writing over a line I’ve already written. I interrupt myself often to watch the clouds cross the moon or the leaves pick up the wind or a person walk a dog or the lights flicker in the window across the street or the cats leap on a toy or each other.

When I get to 10, I close my notebook and go inside to read before bed. (This week, Amor Towles’s wonderful novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, which I would like to read forever.)








28 responses to “10 Things, or Getting Back into the Habit of Writing: Slice of Life #sol18”

  1. Shari Daniels Avatar

    Thank you for this. I’ve been writing in my notebook for the last month, “I’ve got nuthin here,” and it’s getting old. Perhaps I should have just walked away from my notebook altogether for a month, burnt out from my dissertation writing. When I get that way, I usually turn to cut and pasting – choosing random magazines and cutting out any fodder that speaks to me and pasting it into my notebook. I may write from it, I may not. It’s the physical act of cutting, pasting and collecting that is pleasing to me when in a writing drought. I know others who keep their writing going by just writing one line. Perhaps we expect too much of ourselves. 🙂

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I love what you do when you’re burnt out or in a drought. I collect all kinds of material for collecting, cutting, and pasting, but never actually do it. I think I’ll try some of that and see what happens. When I’m not writing, I often remind myself that just one line would do…. but then I don’t even open the notebook for that one line!

  2. Terje Avatar

    I enjoyed reading this slice. Getting a glimpse into your thinking and writing life touched my heart, gave comfort and encouragement.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thank you! I so enjoy reading about others’ writing lives too. It’s encouraging to see how others stay committed even during periods when they aren’t writing much.

  3. arjeha Avatar

    When I take a break from writing I tell myself that thoughts are mulling around in my brain looking for the perfect format in which to be expressed. I, too, like lists. They can take us in many directions.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      For next year’s slice challenge, I just might write lists for the whole month! I find them so satisfying–as writer and reader.

  4. Teachingnest87 Avatar

    I do more writing on a computer these days. You’ve encouraged me to take some time to put pen to paper. Thanks for this peek into your writing life.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I find it so challenging to limit myself when I’ve got my computer on and to stay focused on writing. (There’s email and Facebook and Twitter and so forth!)

  5. Ramona Avatar

    I love visualizing you sitting in the dark writing, with “lightning behind (you) that occasionally illuminates the page.” What a wonderful image!
    And thanks for these words – “I trust that the desire to write will return.” I’ve always been terrified of not writing my weekly slice, afraid that if I ever stopped, I would never return. But this summer, I’ve given myself a couple of weeks off. Thanks for this reminder that it’s good to trust ourselves.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      It’s always a fine balance between sticking with a habit and routine and giving ourselves a break. I, too, always worry that if I skip a day or a week of a valued routine, that will be it and I’ll never return!

  6. lgerbocnaulangi Avatar

    I feel the same as you during my fallow periods (I LOVE that word!) – but I’ve also realized that the writings I produce after these long droughts are much better than what I would have done had I forced myself. And I’m okay with that! It’s something for me to remember when I go back into the classroom and I’m working with my students. Thank you for sharing and helping me to reflect!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      That’s a really interesting observation–that your writing is better after a rest. I usually fixate so much on how hard it is to get back into the daily writing habit again that I don’t even notice whatever I’m actually producing!

  7. Wondering and Wandering Avatar

    I so identify with falling off the wagon. “But now I think it’s just part of my process, part of the shape of my year.” Yes. Tune into the TeachWrite Chat Blog in August for lots of posts about maintaining momentum. I think you’ll connect with our posts.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Love to read about maintaining momentum! Always a struggle for me.

  8. Trina Haase Avatar
    Trina Haase

    I can relate to SO many things in this post. I always like your list structure in your posts. It reminds me it’s another way to add to my notebook writing

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      How I love lists! I would like to be a more consistent daily writer. But there are always very active and very not-active writing times in my year.

  9. Maureen Ingram Avatar

    Love the idea of ‘these fallow periods.’ I am in the midst of one myself, posting today for the first time since the March challenge. This line really spoke to me – “But now I think it’s just part of my process, part of the shape of my year.”

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      The March challenge tends to take it out of a writer! Glad you’re back!

  10. margaretsmn Avatar

    I always think it’s funny when we write about not writing in a blog post. Isn’t that writing? I love imagining sitting on the porch with you with my notebook capturing just the very moment. I’ll remember 10 things tomorrow to make myself open to a clean page with another colored flair pen.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I have soooo many posts about not writing, LOL. Not to mention all the entries in my notebook psychologizing my lack of writing!

      1. margaretsmn Avatar

        Maybe you could write a book about not writing. I’d probably read it when I’m not reading.

  11. jarhartz Avatar

    I’m with you. The notebooks I can’t read, writing I wish I’d done and wanting to read forever.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Yes! I am always sorry not to have things captured in writing because it’s largely how I remember. But at least I’ve taken lots of photos….

  12. Catherine Flynn Avatar

    I think the “fallow periods” are a normal part of the cycle. They renew and restore us, and make it possible to pick up our pens and begin again, “right here in this moment.”

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Lovely phrasing! I have spent so many years fighting myself about the fallow periods without recognizing that they are normal and probably necessary.

  13. Akilah Avatar

    I relate to this on a fundamental level. I think sometimes our bodies/spirits force us into a break because we don’t know what’s good for us, so we find ourselves just not doing something (like me with my reading slumps) because it’s just time to stop for a minute.

    I also love that your lists of ten things has variance in size and scope and is really just another way to freewrite.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      This sounds very likely. I love this way of viewing a reading slump as a break we’re giving ourselves because we need it.

  14. […] slice about fallow writing periods and getting back into the daily habit of […]

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