Rosanne Bane‘s most recent nonfiction book, Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, proved to be productive fodder for our almost hour-long phone conversation. (For more about the book, check out Rosanne’s guest post for The Writing Life last week called Top Ten Tips for Writers.) What I wanted to know right away, though, was how she came to her current career as a writer, creativity coach, and writing teacher.
Bane started out studying linguistics in college before she realized creative writing was where she belonged. Through her time in the University of Minnesota’s creative writing program, Bane taught Freshman Composition where she discovered her love and zeal for teaching writing: “That spurred me,” she says. After taking a personal growth workshop, Bane proposed a class on self-actualization to the Loft Literary Center—that class became the first in her long career of teaching at the Loft. She also edited The Phoenix during this time, which gave her the opportunity to interview and pick the brains of many inspirational and intelligent folks, including Julia Cameron (co-author of The Artist’s Way, an influential book for Bane, and many writers). Finally, Bane kept up with her own writing, including both fiction and nonfiction.
But Bane had some difficulty with something that many of us writers face: showing up for writing. Bane explains that this is why she teaches a lot of creative process classes at the Loft, because, as she puts it, “we teach best in the places we’ve struggled to learn ourselves. What I was having trouble with was consistently showing up and putting in my time. So I thought I was pretty well equipped to help others.” More recently, this love for teaching and helping writers segued into her creative coaching career. After having a sample coaching session with a friend, Bane realized this was something she could be good at. Her coaching clients are primarily writers, although she’s open to teaching creative people of any genre (some of her clients include fabric artists, painters, entrepreneurs, and more).
Her most recent book got its roots from a class she’s taught at the Loft for many years called “The Writing Habit.” Bane had been thinking to herself, “What’s happening? Why do people keep having this problem? If I like to write so much, which I do, then why is it so hard to show up? I started realizing it wasn’t just me.” In her class, she came up with the three steps: process, product time, and self-care. She used these as a framework for the writers to check in each week on their progress, and later, used these as the pillars of the book.
The book is steeped in neurology, but Bane explains it in a way that makes sense, appealing to my inner nerd. The science behind the book was really a catalyst for writing it. Bane says after her first nonfiction book (which focused on psychology of writing) she started researching neurology, including Joseph Ledoux’s book, The Emotional Brain. Another book that triggered something for Bane was The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge, M.D. Bane talks about how LeDoux’s book specifically helped her find her angle for Around the Writer’s Block:
“I saw LeDoux’s research on how the limbic kicks in when we’re stressed and how that makes the cortex, the source of our creativity, problem-solving, and self-motivation, unavailable. And the cortex doesn’t even realize what’s happened. When I saw that, I thought, THAT’s what happens when we want to write, but can’t. It’s not that we lack will power or discipline; it’s that the part of the brain that has the desire and ability to write—the cortex—simply isn’t available. Joseph LeDoux’s book was a huge A-ha for me that prompted me to write my book.”
One of the ideas Bane asserts in the book is that “To write well, you must be willing to write badly” (pg 89). Why is this? Here’s what Bane had to say in our interview:
One of the truths that as a culture we don’t want to recognize, is that creativity and deconstruction have to go hand in hand. When you’re creating music, you’re destroying silence. For writers, when it’s in your head, it can unravel in a million different directions, but when you go to put it on the page, you have to pick one. Basically what you’re doing when committing to a draft is destroying all other possibilities, at least for the day. If we’re thinking, “I have to get this right the first time,” then it’s really hard to write at all.
In other words, remember: “A draft is just an approximation of the final draft.” Take the pressure off, and allow yourself to destroy the other possibilities for the day.
If you, like me, are always interested in where fellow writers find inspiration, then you’re in luck. I asked Bane for a list of resources, and guess what was at the top of her list? The Loft, naturally. As she says, “I’ve been on the education committee so I’ve had the opportunity to see a bunch of people go through. [The Loft does] a fabulous job of finding people who are not only gifted, talented, [and] recognized, but are also good teachers. That’s not always an easy thing to find.” Some other resources include Seth Godin’s blog and the blog Write to Done. Bane also emphasizes the importance of having resources and connections outside of the writing world. She actually got the contract for Around the Writer’s Block in an unusual place: a contact from the agility dog world (Bane has two agility dogs).
I could go on and on about my conversation with Bane, the book, and more, but I’ll spare you my excitable rantings, and leave you with this: Bane is teaching a writing workshop called Overcome Your Writing Resistance class at ArtReach in Stillwater, MN on May 18 on these very topics. What can attendees expect? “Students get a greater understanding of their own process, their own brain, and will be able to move more easily into their writing. They’ll find that after the workshop, they understand more about what gets in the way [of their writing], and how to get around that. They will leave writing more easily, more powerfully, and more often.” Sounds like an obvious choice to me!
What are your personal road blocks to writing? What do you do to ensure that you have self-care time to fuel product time?
by Rosanne Bane
Editor’s Note: We recently encountered Bane’s newest nonfiction book, Around the Writers Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer’s Resistance, and found it incredibly insightful for understanding why we writers have trouble getting ourselves to write every day. Here are ten tips which Bane distilled from this book, for your pleasure. Stay tuned next week for an interview with Bane!
Relax. You’re not defusing a bomb. Take a deep breath and take comfort in knowing you can always…
- Rewrite. Good writing comes from rewriting. So you can stop worrying about being perfect in the first draft. Or in any draft. Perfectionism is fear-driven and limits your creativity.
- Make and honor small commitments. You’ll get more done in five 15-minute sessions than you ever will waiting for the day when you “have time to write.”
- Just show up and do something writing-related in those 15 minutes. If you want to keep going, by all means, do! But know that you can stop after 15 minutes and still make significant progress.
- Evaluate your success by whether or not you show up. Word counts only work when you’re generating new material (not when you’re doing research or rewriting). Consistently showing up will create your writing habit that allows you to…
- Harness the neurological power of habits (aka well-myelinated neural pathways). Inspiration is fickle, discipline and will power are limited and will ultimately fail. Habits sustain you and keep you moving through multiple drafts to the final draft.
- Create your own quirky writing ritual. Rituals seem irrational, but that’s part of why they work and why they make brain sense.
- Stop judging your writing and yourself. Develop your power of discernment instead.
- Be physically active. Take frequent stretch and movement breaks. Because it is a glutton for oxygen and glucose and needs to conserve energy wherever possible, the brain has evolved to shut down when the body is not moving.
- Give your brain what it needs to be creative: adequate sleep, exercise, meditation, creative play and time to focus.
- Abandon multitasking – it actually takes more time and it fractures your ability to focus your attention on your writing. Postpone email; write first.
Rosanne Bane has worked for two decades as a Teaching Artist at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, the country’s largest center of its kind. She also serves individuals as a creativity coach and teaches in the MBA program at the University of St. Thomas. She lives in Minneapolis with her partner and two dogs, Blue and Kelda. On Sat, May 18, Bane will be teaching a workshop called “Overcome Your Writing Resistance” at ArtReach in Stillwater, MN.
Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to interview Jocey Hale, the Executive Director of The Loft Literary Center. I have long had an admiration of the Loft, and in recent years, this admiration has grown into a fierce love of this Twin Cities literary organization.
The Loft is a non-profit that truly fulfills its mission, every single day. Founded in 1974, the Loft has made its mission as one of the leading literary arts center in the U.S., to “advance the artistic development of writers, foster a thriving literary community, and inspire a passion for literature.” Hale has been Executive Director since 2007, and during her time there, has brought the Loft even further to the forefront of the national literary scene. (For those of you not in Minnesota, fret not! A few of Hale’s other favorite literary centers in the U.S. include Grub Street in Boston, Lighthouse in Denver, Hugo House in Seattle, and CityLit Project in Baltimore.)
Hale’s diverse background includes journalism, the dot com world with an emphasis in online education, and the arts. She received her masters in arts management from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. Even before the position at the Loft came about, Jocey was a regular face in the organization: “I just fell in love with the Loft and kept hanging out here and spending a lot more time than I should; I was spending so much time on this volunteer activity,” says Hale. While finishing up her masters at the Humphrey, Hale’s college roommate took her aside and encouraged her to apply for the position. “It’s definitely been a dream job. I love the Loft,” says Hale.
Taking over the helm of the largest literary nonprofit in the U.S. was a big task, but one made less daunting thanks to the great work the organization had already done. Hale stresses that she was extremely lucky coming into the Loft, as the organization already “had a really strong reputation, and was an organization that had been beautifully run for 15 years, with no deficit and had a strong national reputation.”
However, one of Hale’s first projects was figuring out how to incorporate the ever-changing and growing world of technology into the curriculum and mission of the Loft: “In 2007, the whole economy changed, the way people were funding changed, and the way technology was impacting reading and writing was changing. So I had to take that on immediately, both the economic situation, and then how the Loft was going to embrace technology to serve the writers in our community.” The Loft moved to offering classes online, in addition to their in-person curriculum, and has since worked in other ways to achieve this goal.
The Loft’s welcoming arms reach well into the local community. Collaboration is a key part of the Loft’s success and relevance to the current climate of the Twin Cities literary community. Hale observes that the local community can get divided by niche groups and even race lines, so the Loft works to collaborate in ways that cross these lines, through their events and accessible low income pricing. The classes are, in Hale’s words, “really writer-centric,” which, as a previous Loft class participant myself, I’m happy to confirm. Not only does the Loft offer classes and events, but it is also the administrative home of the McKnight Fellowships for writers, as well as a mentorship series for emerging writers, and more, through which it pays writers over $400,000 collectively. As Hale underlines, ”What really makes the Loft an important organization is our continuum of opportunities.” This is an organization with writers from the very beginning, all the way through to publication and beyond.
The Loft wields valuable influence as an institution that fosters a vibrant local literary ecology. This ecology in turn encourages not only writers, but small start-ups to succeed (such as Paper Darts, and Revolver, to name just a few). Indeed, Hazel & Wren even owes much of its success to the welcoming arms and enthusiasm of the local community. Hale continually stresses how fantastic the Twin Cities literary community is, with such a great number of up-and-coming fresh new voices of literary magazines and organizations. This period of intense creative growth in Minnesota excites one of Hale’s interests: the life-cycle of nonprofits.
“You’re all in that start-up phase which usually comes from visionaries who are really excited, and they’re going to give their time, and usually they’re not being paid during that phase. You’re working your heart out,” says Hale. “From an organizational theory, it’s really interesting to watch this, because I have a theory that a place like the Loft, an institution, in general is not going to be able to compete with the intense creativity that’s coming out of the new journals.”
She goes on to assert that start-up organizations aren’t held accountable to a paycheck, and are therefore able to be as creative as possible. “That is so important for the community to be able to have this,” she adds. These start-ups with boundless creativity are reflective of the local literary community. As Hale says, “To me, it’s a sign of a community that has an institution like the Loft, because the ecosystem is working. It’s not that the Loft can take any credit for [...] all [of the] creativity that is happening around [it], but it does create a community where all you creative people are just drawn to it.” She highlights the “exciting core” of Twin Cities institutions that make this an encouraging place to live and start something new, thanks to the Loft, Graywolf Press, Coffee House Press, Milkweed Editions, and Rain Taxi. “Everyone’s just excited about that energy,” she adds, smiling.
Still, there comes a time in the life cycle of most nonprofits where, in order to survive long-term, grants, advertising, and/or paychecks must become a part of the equation; and with them, more obligations. “When money starts to get involved, you reach this tension where you might become a little bit more conservative, because suddenly, you’re answering to other people,” says Hale.
Since my conversation with Hale, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this life-cycle of nonprofits. As a start-up ourselves, we at Hazel & Wren are daily turning this over in our heads. How will our life-cycle change over the years? What will growth mean for our literary community? Will we survive as a purely unpaid, volunteer-run organization? I’m not sure what five years down the road will look like for Hazel & Wren, other than I’m sure we’ll still be here in some form. But how? It’s a huge question for start-ups, but one that is exciting to ponder.
What are the literary institutions that make up your literary climate? Do you think these institutions are necessary for a welcoming climate for small, unpaid start-ups?
by Dawn Frederick
Editor’s Note: Find the first installment of Dawn’s guest posts on query letters here!
Now that we’ve discussed a streamlined approach to writing query letters, it’s time to talk about the DOs and DON’Ts of the process:
1. DO offer to share your manuscript and other materials.
DON’T provide these materials along with the query letter, unless otherwise specified by the submission guidelines.
2. DO follow the agent’s representative categories.
DON’T blatantly state that you acknowledge the book being queried is outside the agent’s/editor’s categories. Ex: I would be a rich woman if I received a penny every time someone wrote “I know that you don’t represent books within <insert category that I don’t represent>, but I thought you’d make an exception with my idea.” Note, this never works. Ever.
3. DO address the query letter to the agent or editor by name.
DON’T address the letter to Dear Agent, Dear Literary Expert, Dear Book Expert, Dear Literary Professional, Dear Editor, Dear Publisher, or To Whom It May Concern. There’s a good chance that if you found the name of the agency, you know the name of the person being queried.
4. DO invest the time in building a good writing platform.
DON’T rush into the process without having developed a strong and extensive network of fellow writers, as well as an audience. It looks much better if a writer has a built-in readership.
5. DO take the time have your work critiqued and in its best form before approaching agents/editors.
DON’T share your work if it hasn’t been edited and combed through multiple times. Is your book the best it can be? If not, take the time and prepare accordingly.
When preparing to query editors and agents, it’s to everyone’s benefit to slow down. Take the time to understand the business of publishing, while also adhering to the general guidelines that individual publishers and agents request during the submission process.
Rushing into the query process can result in a flurry of rejection letters, frustration, and wasted time. Being strategic, methodical, and thoughtful when approaching agents and editors is to a writer’s advantage. Considering going the route of the Tortoise; taking the process one-step-at-a-time, with the possibility of mistakes decreasing and a better result in the end.
Are there any other DOs and DON’Ts I missed? Have you fallen into the trap of any of these DON’Ts?
Dawn Frederick is the owner and literary agent of Red Sofa Literary, based in the Twin Cities. Previously an agent with Sebastian Literary Agency, Dawn brings a broad knowledge of the book business to the table, with multiple years of experience as a bookseller in the independent, chain, and specialty stores. Red Sofa Literary was listed as one the 101 Best Websites for Writers in 2012 and 2013. Additionally, Dawn is also a co-founder of the MN Publishing Tweet Up, a networking group composed of writers and publishers, now completing its second year of bringing publishers and writers together over happy hours and at special bookstore events.