Mojo Monday: Tips from Midge Raymond on How to Be an Everyday Writer

It’s Mojo Monday, and as always, I’ve got a little something-something to lift your creative spirits, buoy you up, help you get your mojo on, and nudge (or better yet, catapult) you into writerhead.


Give it up for my guest blogger today—the wildly talented Midge Raymond—who has recently published a terrific book that all you writers should be reading every night before bed: Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life. (And yup, if you’re scratching your head and thinking “Midge Raymond, Midge Raymond, I swear I’ve heard that name before,” you’re right! Midge was featured on Writerhead Wednesday nearly a year ago for her award-winning collection of short stories Forgetting English.)

How to be an Everyday Writer (even if you don’t have time to write every day)

As writers, we’re often told that we must write every single day. I’m the first to agree that having a daily writing practice is invaluable—but I’m also the first to admit that I’ve never had one. And I’m guessing that most writers—i.e., those of us with families, day jobs, and other responsibilities that make it hard to fit in our creative time—aren’t able to write every single day either.

But this doesn’t mean we can’t be accomplished, happy writers. We just need to be a little more creative about it.

This is why I wrote Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life.

My goal with this book is to offer tips on how to be an everyday writer even without every day, as well as to offer prompts to help you keep your projects moving forward when you’re short on time. Remember: Writing isn’t about sitting down somewhere and typing—it’s about gathering ideas, noticing details, and seeing stories in the world around you … in other words, it’s about thinking like a writer.

So here are a few Mojo Monday tips and prompts to get you started off toward a fruitful week of writing. (Note: It’s best to have a notebook accessible at all times.)

Tip: Take a good look around. All too often, I find myself using my idle time to check email on my phone or to text someone about something that’s not really very important. I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Instead of turning to a device, look upward and outward; check out what’s going on around you. The following prompt will give you an idea of how to train yourself to use this idle time in a more writerly way.

Prompt: The next time you’re waiting in line at the post office, or at the grocery store, or at the hardware store, take a look around. Choose two random people you see and imagine them as a couple. Imagine how they met, where they live, whether they have kids and how many—create an entirely fictional backstory for these two people. When you have a chance, write down all that you envisioned and use your observations to start a new story, to write a poem, or to inform a scene in your novel. Let this exercise take you wherever it wants to go.

Tip: Open your ears. Some of my most successful short stories have been inspired by little bits of dialogue I’ve overheard. Eavesdropping isn’t always a bad thing, and it’s even better when you don’t hear quite enough of a conversation; filling in the blanks with your own imagination is the best part. The next time you’re out and about, prick up your ears and see what you discover.

Prompt: In a café, in your cubicle at work, or waiting in the lobby at the doctor’s office, jot down bits of conversation you overhear. Don’t worry about accuracy or context; just write everything down as you hear it (the more random and open to interpretation, the better). Later, when you have time, go over the dialogue and create a poem, story, or scene based on a couple of these lines.

Tip: Just say no—to Facebook. I know I’m not the only writer on Facebook with a slight addiction. (It’s so much easier to hang out on Facebook than to write the eighteenth draft of the same difficult scene, isn’t it?) Yet I also know that this doesn’t do my writing any good, and every once in a while I ban myself from social media for a few days—usually with wonderful, creative results. Give it a try at least one day this week.

Prompt: Write about a day in your life without Facebook (you can write about a real-life, pre-Facebook day in your past, or create a fictional non-Facebook day in your future). As part of this exercise, consider how social media has changed your life in ways big or small, whether it’s changed how you interact with friends and family. Is there anything about your use of social media that you’d like to change? And if so, how might this affect your writing life?

I hope these help get your Monday off to a good, writerly start. Wishing you a great week of writing!

BIO: Midge Raymond is the author of Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life, as well as the short-story collection Forgetting English, which received the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, American Literary Review, Indiana Review, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has received several Pushcart Prize nominations and received an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship. Midge taught communication writing at Boston University for six years, and she has taught creative writing at Boston’s Grub Street Writers and Seattle’s Richard Hugo House. She currently lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Midge Raymond

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.


Welcome, welcome, welcome to Midge Raymond, author of the award-winning short story collection Forgetting English. Originally published in 2009 by Eastern Washington University Press, Forgetting English won the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction (whoop! whoop!) and was recently published as a new, expanded edition by Press 53. Check it out!

The Scoop About Forgetting English

“In this new, expanded edition of her prize-winning collection, Midge Raymond explores the indelible imprint of home upon the self and the ways in which new frontiers both defy and confirm who we are. Forgetting English takes us around the world, from the stark, icy moonscape of Antarctica to the lonely islands of the South Pacific, introducing us to characters who have abandoned their native landscapes only to find that, once separated from the ordinary, they must confront new interpretations of who they are, and who they’re meant to be.” (from www.midgeraymond.com)

The Buzz

“Raymond’s prose often lights up the poetry-circuits of the brain, less because of lyrical language and more due to things that work as both literal and symbolic nouns: stolen rings, voice-mail messages gone astray; heavy-footed humans in the middle of fragile habitats.” ~ The Seattle Times

“Raymond has quiet, unrelenting control over the writing; each story is compelling and thrives because each detail and line of dialogue reveals just a little more about the characters and the evocative settings.” ~ The Rumpus

“In her impressive debut collection, Forgetting English, Midge Raymond sets her stories in a variety of locations outside the continental United States…Alongside personal, human histories, Raymond incorporates larger traditions. Marriage rites. Fertility symbols. The meaning of jade. The natural history of the penguin.” ~ Fiction Writers Review

First Sentence

“He lives in his mother’s house, with no electricity or hot water, yet somehow he always has a ready supply of condoms.” (from “Sunday,” the first story in Forgetting English)

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And now, Midge’s writerhead

1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

I experience writerhead in stages, maybe a little like the stages of sleep. So, for example, the first, light stage of writerhead happens when I have an idea that I jot down, and maybe even take a couple of minutes to write a few notes. Just as the first stage of sleep is when you’re drifting off and not really sleeping, this is not really writing—but it’s the first step in getting there. And then, the more time I have, the deeper I fall into writerhead, and the more vividly I think and dream. If I have plenty of time to write, I’ll fall into the REM-sleep version of writing, when my brain activity is going crazy but nothing can get me up from the chair. This is the stage of sleep when all the dreaming happens, and it’s the writing version of when all the good work happens. It takes me a while to get to this stage; I usually have to set aside a few good hours so that I can delve into a project. I turn off the phone, get offline—often I even take myself out of the house to avoid distractions. And once there, I become completely engrossed in the scenes on the page. Everything else around me disappears. I’ve been kicked out of cafés past closing, late for events and meals—when I’m absorbed in the story, I have no idea what time it is.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

For someone to interrupt writerhead, they really have to work at it—it’s like waking me from a deep sleep. I’m usually pretty unaware and unconcerned with what’s going on around me. On the other hand, when I’m in an early, light stage of writerhead, any little interruption will annoy me—it’s like trying to fall asleep with a lot of noise in the room. When I make time to write, though, I’m pretty good about ignoring most outside interruptions: the phone, the door, email, my husband—oddly enough, my most persistent interruptions come from my beastly rescue cat, who will not be ignored. He’ll jump on the desk, sit right on the keyboard. If I lock him out of my office, he hurls himself at the door until I give in. This is why I work in cafés quite a lot.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

While writerhead is a lot like being in a deep, dreaming sleep, I also imagine it’s much like being an actor, when you literally take on the role of someone else. As a writer, I have to be many people at once, and it can feel a little crazy to be in that space with all those voices—especially when they literally begin having conversations in your head. But it’s one of my favorite places in the world to be.

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Midge Raymond is the author of the award-winning story collection Forgetting English. Her stories have appeared in TriQuarterly, North American Review, Bellevue Literary Review, the Los Angeles Times magazine, and many other publications. Her work has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes and has received numerous awards, including the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction and an Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship in Literary Arts. She lives, writes, and battles the cat for writing territory in the Pacific Northwest.

You can learn loads more about Midge at her web site (www.midgeraymond.com) and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@midgeraymond).

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Q4U Readers / Writers / Short Story Aficionados / Curious Looky-Loos: How good are you ignoring interruptions? How much time do you spend writing in cafés?