A Writing Retreat in The Green Study

The Green Study will return on April 1, 2018.

I’ve made some progress over the last couple of months on both my novel and some essay writing, and I’ve reached that point where I need to do a final push to meet internal and external deadlines. I’ll leave you with some thoughts before I head into Michelle’s Writing Month (MeWriMo).

On Vulnerability and Writing

When I wrote about book reviews earlier this month, I began to think about the nature of being a writer in today’s world. If I’m deep into writing, I have no armor. I find after spending a lot of time writing, even going to the grocery store feels like an assault on the senses. I’m exposed. A hermit crab without a shell. I wince at the overhead speakers and all the beeping noises of the register. People seem too loud, the lights too bright.

canstockphoto17784854I have to harden up a bit again, develop a wind break against the sensory onslaught. And this is only to physical sensation. What about those writers who read a review of something they’d published, something they’d poured themselves into, only to be eviscerated by a careless reviewer? The Amazon hit piece: This sucked. I want my money back.

Writers talk about not reading their reviews and I used to wonder if it was an issue of ego, but now I think it’s necessary protectionism. Reviews serve no purpose for writers. The work is done. Writing to audience specifications will not create better art.

International Relations

I’ve noticed a lot of readers from countries where English is not the main language. With all the available tools we have to translate, I would encourage you to engage, practice your English here or write in your first language, and maybe we can learn a little more about your language and country. You are welcome here at The Green Study.

canstockphoto7037830I just started studying Chinese, but also have some German, Spanish, French, and Russian under my belt. I spend a little time each day studying, using apps like Duolingo and Memrise. Lately, too, I’ve been using Quizlet to improve my geography knowledge. There is something about learning location and language that brings the world closer to home. And it’s excellent exercise for the brain.

At a time when our U.S. leaders seek to sow discontent, we must free our minds and open our hearts. The U.S. is shedding experienced and knowledgeable diplomats, so we must step up to the plate. We must reach out, talk to each other, make connections, learn languages, read internationally, and not allow our leaders to define our relationship with the rest of the world.

Microresolution Update

It works. It really works. Back in December, I did a post series on resolutions with the intent of doing monthly updates. I’m a little late, but I’m sure no one is losing any sleep over it. I ran into trouble when I kept picking the wrong resolutions. I kept modifying until I finally hit on a couple more that worked. The results, like the resolutions, are small, but have shifted me more towards my personal goals than not.

canstockphoto8037195Writing: I have written every single day now for almost three months. As soon as I log into my computer, a blank Word doc comes up, and I am writing. My current resolution is a nightly habit of planning the next day’s writing. I don’t always follow through on the list, but I’ve given myself a map and travel with it as far as I can. As long as I’m still moving, that’s progress.

Fitness: I’ve mixed up my workouts and avoided my usual pitfall, which is to progressively add more weight and distance and time until I burn out for weeks on end or get injured. Whatever I do is fine, as long as I do something. The sun is out today and the sidewalks have finally melted off – it’s a walk for sure.

Nutrition: Forcing myself to eat only at the kitchen table has completely changed how I approach mealtimes and snacks. It is now a ritual and not a dash-and-grab. In the words of Caroline Arnold: small move, big change.

canstockphoto11693411My latest microresolution is eating food that requires me to slow down. Soup or salad and fruit for lunch. Unless I slurp cold soup with a straw, it’s a slow meal. And the time it takes to peel and eat an orange is meditative. I can feel my relationship with food changing, becoming the pleasure it should be.

Lifestyle: For the last couple of months, I made the resolution to always log off my computer by 7pm. This has improved a lot of small, meaningful things for me. I have more conversations with my family, I read more, and when I’m ready to go to bed, I sleep.

What is the most significant thing about taking a long time to make small changes, is that it changes the narrative from one of failed resolutions to that of incremental victories. This has given me a sense of optimism about my ability to make change and the confidence I’d lost in the repeated failures of bigger goals.

I still get a little impatient, but after seeing how consistent I am able to be when I whittle down to the smallest resolution, I’m going to keep at it. Five new habits in three months? That’s 20 new, positive habits a year. Where will I be then? I’m kind of excited to find out.


canstockphoto4839212Thank you to the many readers and commenters who have connected with me here. The blog is now six years old. It has learned to walk, wipe its own butt, and doesn’t drool quite as much – with only an occasional temper tantrum. It would have languished long ago if not for the people who read it and those who take the time to share their thoughts and perspectives. Thank you!

Have a great month of March and I look forward to reconnecting in April!

38 thoughts on “A Writing Retreat in The Green Study

  1. Good and satisfying work to you, Michelle, and thanks for once again providing constructive and inspiring advice. I love the practice of small practices, and your recognition that achieving small goals builds all-important confidence. Self-doubt is the biggest bogeyman in Buddhist philosophy; you are cultivating and sharing small but crucial habits to counter that mindset. You’re appreciated, and will be missed. Write steady!


    1. It feels like a huge epiphany – this realization that I can change and create a better life for myself. I was stuck for a very long time. Part of it is a legacy of not feel deserving, but also the unrealistic tack I was taking when creating goals. I like, too, that these habits actually make my life better off in the now and not at some point in the future. Thanks for the kind words, Cate.


  2. I’m going to Europe in September and dearly hope that I can let at least a couple of folks know that Americans are not Donald Trumps. It’s crazy that we have let our diplomatic corps wither and die on the vine. I guess DT doesn’t believe in diplomacy, just war machines. It is up to us to fill in the void.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You write, “Writers talk about not reading their reviews and I used to wonder if it was an issue of ego, but now I think it’s necessary protectionism. Reviews serve no purpose for writers. The work is done. Writing to audience specifications will not create better art.”

    While I agree with what you say about vulnerability and protectionism, I disagree wholeheartedly with your statement that “Reviews serve no purpose for writers.” They might not serve a purpose in terms of the actual writing, which I think is what you are meaning to say–that an author isn’t going to use reviews as a form of critique or feedback to improve craft. Ideally, a writer will have critique partners or a writing community and editors and agents that will help them with the craft of writing before the book comes out. Reviews aren’t meant for improving craft. But once the book is published, writers do NEED reviews if they want to sell any books. Reviews absolutely benefit writers. This is why the publishing industry and writers themselves seek out readers that could give them a review. As a consumer who now does almost all of my book shopping online, I can attest to the importance of reviews. It’s just part of the reality of book marketing and publishing success these days.

    Writers can (perhaps should) recognize their vulnerability and protect themselves by not looking at the reviews of their book(s) . . . or at least by not reading the negative ones. But I also think writers need to know that (and I recognize that it will be much more difficult for me to say this if I ever get my own book published) a couple negative reviews will not damage a book’s sales . . . not having any reviews would be much more damaging to its sales. And most consumers don’t really pay attention to the reviewers who say things like “This sucked. I want my money back.”

    As my own practice, I don’t write many reviews, and when I do, it’s only positive ones for books that I genuinely enjoyed. And even if I don’t know the author personally, I think taking the time to write some reasons why I liked the book will help out a fellow writer . . . any maybe build up some good writerly karma for when I get my own book published 🙂

    Glad to hear your micro-resolutions are going well. Best of luck on your blog break. Hope you make good progress on your book and essays you are working on.


  4. You remind me of my daughter, who’s a bit of a perfectionist, and very controlling. Just don’t get TOO perfectionist and controlling, and give yourself some breaks once in a while! Good luck with your writing… you have a great way with words.


    1. I certainly have tendencies in those directions, but I’m actually more relaxed than I’ve been in a long time. Hence the need to let a few things go while I get on with some projects that are important to me. Thanks for the good wishes!


    1. I made a resolution that I had to write 250 words (which is a single, double-spaced page) as soon as I logged into my computer in the morning. I just wanted to create a habit, no matter how small. There were days when I was struggling to make myself finish, but others when I would write well into the day.

      With a small goal, it gives you that flexibility – you can still walk away feeling like you did something on the tough days or surprise yourself with a burst of creativity on the good ones. I tend to do most of my writing in the early morning hours, but will write any time I get the urge.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Interesting insights, Michelle, always good to know how others approach the writing task. If for any reason you don’t hit the target, may I ask, do you make it up the next day – or don’t you ever miss it?


        1. I’ve not missed a day on the writing. The trick was in the target I set. It had to be so infinitesimally small as to leave me no room for excuses. For me, it’s 250 words. For another person, it might be a sentence or three pages. And I took a few test runs. When I faltered, I reset the goal to something smaller, until I could consistently meet it.
          The book I read that got me started on this, Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold, recommended that if you missed a day, that you allow it to be only one. When I do miss a day, my plan is to just write 250 the next day. Since the point for me is more about the habit than the word count, I don’t feel like I need to make it up.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow. Your thoughts really resonate here…

    Especially having to develop a hard shell against the sensory onslaught. Me too. Tthink it might be a common writer trait…And reviews can suck! LIke you say, once the work is done, it’s done.

    But what about critique groups before the work is done? Having just spent two years getting my MFA, I have to say that the critiques before and during a piece in construction can sting just as much….a lot actually!
    And reflectively now I can say that while not always, but often they just confused and caused much more anguish while writing, and endless, possibly unnecessary story revisions.

    Just wondering what others might think about writing critique groups….Good, bad, or ugly???

    Luv your micro resolutions…am going to adopt them!


    1. I haven’t had much luck in workshops or classes when it comes to critiquing, but I know a few readers have. Hopefully, they’ll catch your comment here. I’m not looking forward to that portion of the editing/beta reader process, but I know it’s necessary and can be useful, once I’m done taking it personally!


  6. Regarding your comments about reviews, Michelle, I am thinking about Agatha Christie’s author note in the beginning of “And Then There Were None”: “It was well received and reviewed, but the person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been.”


    1. That’s a great quote. We’ve come to a particular time in art when it’s necessary to resist “crowd-sourcing” in the act of creativity. Everybody has an opinion, as well as a way of broadcasting it. In most cases, creating, writing, singing, painting – these are individual acts that are under the sole control of the artist. Anything that happens after that, is most often not something that can be predicted or controlled – like reviews or sales or any other external metric.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I now find myself logging off earlier in the evening, because I just like that feel of being disconnected, slowing down, and just being in the moment. I sleep much better without the frenetic brain activity that comes from being online. Also, there are studies coming out about how light-emitting devices used before bedtime negatively impact sleep. It was one of those things I desperately needed to improve and logging off has helped.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I am still struggling with Chinese, but I like the challenge. I am so appreciative of Duolingo, especially as an app on my phone. I spend a lot of time waiting during my daughter’s concert rehearsals, lessons, and practices, and it’s perfect for doing a little bit every day. It’s become a small daily habit slowly building a larger vocabulary and phrases. Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

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