How $66 is going to make me a Habitual Writer

(I am taking a short break from my series on mental illness to bring you this post on The Writing Habit).

Imagine being curled up in your favorite chair, reading a book that grabs you on a gut level. The story wraps its way around your heart warming every cool place. Your mind stretches with every sentence making you feel more connected and more entranced. You are no longer reading about grief and joy, you are experiencing it. Tears gather in your eyes and laughter spills out of your mouth as the plot unravels.
Unfortunately, this book is not available on Amazon or at your local bookstore because this book has not been written yet. This book exists in the imagination of an author who is not winning the battle against Resistance. This story has been silently spinning, pleading with the author to take a blank page out of its misery. Instead of writing, the “wishes-to-be writer” is listening to the voices saying,

“It’s not worth doing”
“Nobody cares about this”
“It’s not perfect enough”
“I don’t have time to write”
“Don’t put yourself out there like that”
“I don’t know what to write”
“I will someday”
“I have to do the dishes instead” or
“I gotta check Facebook.”

This year for my birthday my husband gave me a gift certificate to the Loft to take a writing class. While I was grateful for the gift, I was thinking that these classes weren’t really designed for hacks like me, who rarely took time to actually write. For this reason, I decided to take a class called “The Writing Habit” thinking I might learn how to discipline myself or kick my butt into action.

As it turns out, this line of thinking wasn’t helpful. The teacher, Rosanne Bane (author of Around the Writer’s Block) didn’t like the word “discipline” and was not all about kicking yourself. She was positive, encouraging, and taught us some effective tools to overcome resistance and create a habit without being hard on ourselves. I will share a few of the insights I learned from the class below.

Make small commitments, like “I will write for at least 15 minutes, 3X per week. It doesn’t matter what you write during that time, it’s more important to show up. Developing a sustainable habit is more important than what you produce. The logic is that if you show up to write 100 times, you are more likely to come up with a couple of gems versus if you show up once and hope to produce a masterpiece! Also, over time you learn to trust yourself that you will do what you say you will do, allowing your subconscious to do some of the work for you between writing sessions.

Reward Yourself. I used to be a behavioral therapist for kids with autism, and now I practice DBT which is a type of behavioral therapy, and yet I never thought to apply it to my writing habit. The reward doesn’t have to make logical sense because the part of your brain that likes being rewarded (the limbic system) is not the part of your brain that rationalizes (the cortex). For an example, pay yourself by putting a coin in a jar. Your brain’s reward center does not care that it’s your own money, it just likes the clinking sound of money on money. In class we had the opportunity to bet on ourselves by putting a dollar in an envelope. If we honored our commitments we got to select a prize out of a suitcase of trinkets. As it turns out, adults are just as motivated by Play Doh, Koosh balls, dollar coins and markers as the average 3rd grader!

Develop a Writing Ritual. If you do the same thing every time you sit down to write, the ritual itself will act as a cue for your brain to get into a writing zone. Dancing, lighting a scented candle or reciting a poem in the same way before you write can create an association in your brain so that the ritual alone help you get writing. My ritual, which doubles as a reward is popping a butterscotch disc into my mouth as I sit down to write. I will only eat this candy if I’m writing. If I’m craving a butterscotch disc, my mind will interpret this as a craving to write. The two will be inseparable.

Inspired by the gold dollar coins in Rosanne’s suitcase, I plan to withdraw 66 gold dollar coins from the bank. Each time I honor my commitment to myself to show up to write for 15 minutes I will deposit one coin into a special jar. If I show up less than 3 times in a week, I will empty my special jar and start the count over. I will not spend the money until all 66 coins are in the jar. Why 66? Rosanne Bane said in class that it takes 66 honored commitments in a row for a habit to develop. I always thought it was 21 consecutive days, but if Bane says 66, I’ll go for 66.

My question to you is what should I buy for $66 when I successfully transfer all of my coins? My other question to you is what will you buy for $66 to reward yourself when you create your own habit?

For more on developing a sustainable habit, flowing through stages of the creative process, commitments to process, self-care, and product time, overcoming creative blocks, and much more, read Around the Writers Block, visit the website, or take a class by Rosanne Bane.


Music Review from a non-musician: The Jolly Groggers

I grew up listening to music constantly. My older sister would be pounding out Mozart on our upstairs piano while my younger sister was accompanying with an original number from the basement piano. Or my little sister would be practicing clarinet in her bedroom and my older sister was in the living room playing guitar, violin, or harmonica unless she was away at choir practice or voice lessons. Sometimes the constant presence of two musicians resulted in cacophony, sometimes harmony, but always sound. Except for the occasional blast on the trumpet for shock value, I never had the desire to join in, perhaps because the decibel level was already a bit concerning and the ability to “hear ourselves think” was already confounded.

All this to say, I don’t have any ability to make music myself- but over the years of listening, I have developed an ear for what sounds good and what does not. I cannot usually pinpoint what it is about a song that I like or dislike, because all the sounds meld together into one unit, like they did in my house growing up. I have never been able to say, the baseline really added something to that song, or the lead guitar part was boring, or the drummer was just being showy…. I just know if the song as a whole sounded good and what that song provoked in me.

The Jolly Groggers, Irish Folk music from NE Minneapolis, recently offered a free CD for anyone who would write a review about their new(ish) album. The promotion is cleverly called “Bloggers for Groggers” and as a completely unbiased fan (wink, wink) I have decided to be the first to participate.

The band first formed a few years ago to provide entertainment at one of the band member’s St Patrick’s Day parties. A few friends decided to get together and learn some traditional Irish Folk tunes to liven up the party (in case the mysterious green beverages and jello molds weren’t enough). Instead of a boring ol’ indoor practice with no audience, the band decided to play outside of Britt’s pub in preparation for the party. Just like in the movies (or Glee) when people in the streets break out in dance, there was lots of dancing. Except instead of synchronized, choreographed moves, there was a little bit of everything. Of course there were a fair number of people attempting the straight armed, fancy footwork jigs, but there were also people slow dancing, skipping, and performing other moves I can’t even describe. Besides making a lot of people dance, they made everyone smile, and they made about $60. Just enough to keep them wanting more.

The magic the Groggers worked on the street crowd was nothing compared to the fun they facilitated at their favorite venue, Charlie’s Irish Pub, in Stillwater, MN. The old time songs with a gruff yet playful spin gets the pub patrons clanking their glasses together and cheering for more every time. When the band added Stacy Griffin, and Anna Bakk as dueling fiddlers to the mix there wasn’t a still foot in the room. To keep things fresh and exciting, the band members switch instruments amongst each other between nearly every song. Their new album of ten songs, features all six band members as the lead singer for various songs. Not only do they cover the Irish folk favorites for everyone to sing along, they also play original songs by Peter Bodurtha, that are so clever, Irish, and subtle, that everyone thinks they are classics.

As one pub patron aptly put it (at the top of her lungs) after hearing the Jolly Groggers for the first time, “THEY SOUND LIKE %*$#@!* ANGELS!”

For a fun, memorable night out- check out the Jolly Groggers live, or for the extra energy you need to finish cleaning your house, buy their new album (or download songs for free) at

fun at 331 Club in Mpls

The Jolly Groggers at Charlies Irish Pu b in Stillwater, MN

Blue Like Jazz (The Movie) Review

I went to a church retreat several years ago (like almost 10). I don’t remember much about what the speaker talked about. I think it was something about forgiveness, or tension, or grace or God or something. What I do remember is what book he recommended. It seems strange now that this is what would stick in my mind, but I remember exactly what he said about it, and that he read the author’s note aloud. I was mesmerized by the author’s note and I wanted the retreat to be over so I could find the book.
Donald Miller was not the NY Times bestselling author he now is and I had to go to three bookstores before I finally bought a used copy of Blue Like Jazz online. I started reading the book and I felt like someone turned a light on in a place I didn’t know was dark. The book is organized in a series of essays about the themes from his life and faith like sin, forgiveness, friendship, generosity, and love (for yourself and others). I was in awe at how poignantly and aptly he used his life stories illustrate these concepts. He later said in interviews that he wrote the book thinking that no one would ever read it. Maybe this mentality caused him to be so embarrassingly honest about his struggles, fears, loneliness, hypocrisy, self-hatred, self-centeredness, daydreams, and insecurities. This type of honesty and storytelling touched me deeply and made me feel less alone in this world. It also inspired me to open my eyes to the story that was unfolding in my life and in the lives of those around me. He was expressing things that I felt in my heart but hadn’t put words to at that point in my life. Like any good self-deprecating author his humor could be missed if you read it too fast.
So, all this to say, I liked the book (in case you didn’t catch that).
I learned a few years ago that they were going to make the book into a movie. It seemed a little strange because the book isn’t a linear story, but more of a collage of stories, thoughts and realizations. The screenplay was written, and Donald Miller even wrote a book about writing the movie, but when it came down to it, they couldn’t find funding for the project. When it was announced that the movie was dead, fans of the book banned together and broke some records with how much money raised. The movie was revived, and as a supporter of the film, I got a chance to preview it last month.
My hopes were high and I wasn’t disappointed. It was NOT by any means your usual low budget, highly sentimental, preachy, agenda driven Christian movie. If that’s what you enjoy, do not see the movie. I don’t want to give too much away, but the movie weaves many of the themes of the book into a redemptive, beautiful, coming of age story.
I took a sign language class in college and learned a bit about deaf culture. One thing that I learned is that cochlear implants are highly controversial.  While they can help a deaf person hear they can also alienate that person from the deaf world. Once someone gets an implant they are no longer part of the deaf world in the same sense they were before, but they are not fully accepted into the hearing world because their speech is different and their hearing isn’t perfect. I feel like this movie faces a similar dilemma.   With PG-13 rating and plenty of “worldly” content it may not be accepted by Christian film types, but with its themes of faith and spirituality it may not be embraced by the general population of movie goers.  In my humble opinion, it would be a shame if this movie flops because it is not deaf enough or it is not hearing enough.


Comment below to share about a book that was influential in your life! Also comment below or contact me if you want to come with us to the premier this Friday!