What to do when you don’t know what to do

February is difficult for me. It is always cold, cloudy, snowy, icy, and/or rainy. I struggle with grief as it is the anniversary month of several deaths, both family, and friends. I struggle to find my center and don’t know what to do with myself. I usually cope by writing, immersing myself in a world of my own making, where no one dies unless I want them to. This year my timing is a bit off because of some health issues I had in December. So I’m at the brainstorming part of my next book but not ready to write. I haven’t known what to do with my grief, anger, overwhelm, anxiety and stress. I found the answer in an article about resilience. As a parent, I want to model resilience for my kids so they will have an understanding of how to cope with life.  I tell my kids all the time. Don’t worry about things you can’t control. Do your best with the things you can control.

I took my own advice and I made two lists: Things I Can’t Control, and a list of Things I Can Control. Here are some of my entries: I can’t control the weather, other people’s behavior, time, space, the events of the world, or reviewers (for the authors out there). I can control what I eat, what I read, what I listen to, what I do with my time, the way I speak with other people, how I listen, and who I spend time with.

Listing calmed me, reminded me I am in control of the things that can help with the rawness that February brings. If you are as discomforted by February as I am I hope this post helps.  If you are struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts contact this hotline. Call. Text. Use online chat. Reach out.

1-800-273-8255

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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Creativity: Habit or Gift?


One of the questions writers hear over and over is: Where do you get your ideas?, often followed by the statement: I’m just not creative. I don’t have a hard time answering the first. I get my ideas from everything I see, read, experience, and bits of the world I discover, often while looking for something else. Like this picture of my grandmother and her best friend.

One day I will tell a story about this photo. I found it looking through a photo album at my mother’s house.  I made a copy of the photo and added it to my flat file where I keep bits and pieces of ideas until I have enough to put together a project. 

The second statement is so hard to hear. I detest the idea that creativity is a gift. I don’t think it is, because there are so many ways to be creative. It is not only writing, drawing, or painting or any of traditional ideas of what being creative means. Being creative is allowing yourself time to think, to do something only you could produce with your thoughts, and hands, and time.

Lack of time is the greatest barrier to creativity. If you want to create you have to set time aside to think, to plan, to play with your ideas, and to experiment. If you want to create make a plan, schedule it into your life. Set aside time to think and discover. Anyone can create. Fine arts are only one aspect of creativity. Do you like to make changes and adapt recipes? That is being creative. Do you spend time decorating your home or planting a garden? That is being creative. Creativity is what happens when you stop and let yourself imagine, and dream. Give yourself permission to look at life sideways. Take the walk, visit the museum, read, and absorb the world around you. Creativity is a habit. It is work. Rewarding, delightful, soul filling work. Do the work. 

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Filling the Well and Looking Ahead

This year has been a rollercoaster with some fantastic highs, and some very stressful lows I achieved some goals that have been years it the making. I’ve had two novel published and have signed a contract for a third. I am a firm believer in goals setting and planning, and my life is so predictable I usually am able to execute my plans. But this summer I learned the value of being flexible as I spent the summer in hospitals, first with my daughter when she broke her arm and required surgery to repair it, and then with my mom as we sorted through different options to treat her cardiac issues. And then this month it was my turn. I had unexpected but necessary surgery the week of Christmas. My family and friends were fantastic, my parents making the eight hour drive to come and help my wife and I with our kids and to care for me.  I’m still recovering, but the way I have felt for the last month gives me even more respect for those that deal with chronic health conditions. As the year closes I’ve been forced to sit, never easy for me, but I’ve used the time to think, and plan. In this time before the New Year starts take some time, to sit and think, make some plans, and set some goals for the New Year but remember to stay flexible and build in some time to reconsider, and regroup if life does not go as planned. I’m spending the next three weeks with my family, filling the well. Wishing you all a very happy healthy new year. 

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Invest in Yourself

This past month I signed a contract for my third novel. And as anxious as I was to start my forth, because starting a new project is the best way for me to deal with the stress/anxiety/freak-out of submitting a manuscript for review. I make it a point to take some time between novels to study my craft, either by attending a conference, taking an online class, reading books about the craft of writing, and/or reading widely in my genre.

Why? Because on one level, writing is about doing that, siting down and putting words on paper. Nothing can replace that practice. There is no way to “hack” becoming better at writing than by writing and practicing your craft. I’m at the journeyman point in my career, with a collection of short stories, two novels published and a contract signed on a third. I’m not a beginner. But I am not seasoned writer with twenty novels to my credit either. I was not an English or Journalism major and I don’t have a MFA, and I want to make it clear: none of the above degrees are necessary to write a novel.

But it is possible to improve your craft with out signing up for formal education. You can invest your time and money to learn new ways to communicate your ideas and entertain your readers. I’m a health professional and educator by training and am all about making plans to achieve your goals. In order to construct an educational plan for your writing career look at reviews of you work. What do readers complain about? And I’m referring to thoughtful reviews here, not troll-type reviews. What problems do your editors point out? Pacing? Structure? Plotting? Character development?

Here are some thoughts on ways to address recurring problems in your manuscripts. Have a problem with pacing? Study screenplays, or take a screen-writing class. Issues with dialogue? Study stage plays, watch movies from the 30’s and 40’s when special effects were limited, and dialogue had to carry the story. Problems with plotting and structure? Read, read, read in your genre, take time to see how the novelist did what they did by making an outline of the novel. Flat characters, or poorly designed character arcs? Read biographies, ethnographies, and memoirs, connect lived experiences with human behavior and character arcs. Struggling with world building and setting? Study filmmaking and photo journalism to see how setting is as much a part of the story as the characters.

Writers conferences offer opportunities to learn about the craft of writing but not every one  has time, money, mental, and physical health required to attend a writing conference. If a writing conference is not on your list of things to do, take advantage of the many low stress, free, or low cost resources for writers. My number one recommendation for resources is the public library. Most libraries are free, or low cost, and once you are a member you can use interlibrary loans to get just about any book or movie you want. Many libraries have a way to provide digital loans, saving you time, and the hassle of remembering to return your books/films/music. If you live near a university or college, check out their library and their theater productions. Creative Live offers courses on screenwriting, (https://www.creativelive.com and no, not I’m not getting paid to recommend them, they often have sales on their courses, so it pays to sign up for their newsletter.

Indie Film Academy (http://www.indiefilmacademy.com) is free as is Ted Talks (https://www.ted.com/talks) for interviews and lectures about writing, inspiration, and living a creative life.

Take time to invest in yourself and your writing career. You and your career are worth the effort. 

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Filing the Well Summer Edition

Some times I feel like this raccoon,

 

and this hummingbird,

 

 

 

 

and this crazy moth,

 

 

 

 

 

 

and this bee, 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But then I remember nature never hurries and it all gets done. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recover and Reset

I had planned on taking a break from novel writing over the Summer. I had home projects planned. I had visions of spending lots of time at the pool, hiking, and gardening and hanging out with my kids. I had planned on some promotion and marketing of my novel, Sum of the Whole,  set to release on June 19th

But then my mom had some serious health issues, and then this happened:

 My kiddo tumbled off the pirate ship. Surgery, two pins and one hot pink cast later I needed to change my ideas about summer.  Heartrending? Yes. Stressful? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Anxiety level off the charts? Yes. So I did the thing I always do when I don’t know what thing I should do next, and want some imaginary control over my life. I wrote.

 I wrote an outline while my mom was in the hospital.

The day after my daughter got home from the hospital I started writing my next novel.

I’ve left the deadline the original one that I set when I had planned out my summer and work projects. I don’t expect to finish writing it this summer, but when I sit down in the Fall when the kids go back to school I will be a bit ahead of schedule. It also gives me a sense of accomplishing something on those days I feel stuck.

My advice when life veers off the expected trajectory, take time to recover and reset.  Do the thing that grounds you, the thing that makes the rest of the world fall away even if it is just for an hour. Do that. And remember this:

“Nature never hurries, yet everything is accomplished.” Lao Tzu 

 

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Write when you can: Fighting the tyranny of the you-must-write-every-day edict.

This post is in response to many articles/books/ lectures that suggest that a writer who does not write every day is not serious. You can probably guess from the title what camp I fall into. I notice a glaring consistency among the you-must-write-every-day-or-you-are- not-a- serious writer crowd.

Most are people who do not seem to realize that everyone has to find a method of work that works with your life, your learning style and physical/mental abilities, and your responsibilities. Many are published authors whose day job is writing, and for them I understand that feeding your family is important and words=money. For anyone trying to become published, that kind of all or nothing advice is unhelpful, and discouraging. 

I have family/work/business obligations. I don’t write every day. In fact sometimes I plan on not writing. Why? Because LIFE is messy, unpredictable, fantastic, and wondrous. I also believe that for me filling the well is what lets me come back to the page ready to write. Am I serious about my writing? You tell me. I have had a collection of short stories and two novels contracted in the last year. I plan on submitting two more novels this year. I am serious and consider myself a professional.  I understand what my productivity level/ability is for producing a manuscript that I am comfortable submitting to my publisher. Could I produce more? Maybe, but this is what is right for me, right now. I don’t believe that taking time off is unproductive. Many great writers did not write every day unless they were working on a project, so don’t let anyone tell you that writing every day is the only way to become a published writer.

I’m taking the summer off to enjoy time with my kids, travel, blog a bit, and think. That is how I work, I need space between creative projects to think and plan my work. I get annoyed when authors discourage people from writing by making arbitrary rules. Find what works for you and do it. Trust your process and try as many different ways of work as you can until you find what works for you. If you need someone to give you permission to not write everyday this is it. Do it your way and trust yourself to find what works for you.

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Hold on for the Ride

I’ve written about my mom before, about how she trusted her instincts to get me through my young life, before ADHD was a diagnosis, and way before anyone had any idea what to do with the wild-ass young me. I was rough, busy, always starting new projects, could not sit still kind of kid. Most people who know me now would say I have not changed.

This Mother’s Day is a Mother’s Day that sees my mom facing some health issues. Not the first Mother’s day I have wondered if I would have my mom next year. When I was in high school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a thirty plus year survivor. She showed me then what it is to be tough and survive, and I always think of her as bullet-proof. The number one thing my mom taught me is to never give up. Thanks Mom for all the lessons, and for continuing to be tough. 

For those of you without your mom this Mother’s Day, know that I’m thinking of you. For those of you without children know that I’m thinking of you too. Here’s to all the bullet-proof, kick-ass mom’s out there, wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day. 

Courage and Radical Self-care

I’ve written before about how overwhelm can derail the best of plans. This past year I had a collection of short stories published (you can get them here) and I  signed a contract for a novel in January. In addition to writing I also teach cooking classes, work as a consultant, volunteer at my kids school once a week, work a day job, write this blog and another one, and I have kids and a partner, pets, etc.

Are you tired reading this? Or overwhelmed? I know I am. If you add in the current political climate I am beyond stressed. Like many people with ADHD I struggle on a daily basis with control and focus without outside pressures and demands. I have written before about self-care, here and here and I think that all of the ideas in those posts still work.

This post is about having the courage to stop doing things, in order to do the things that nourish your body and soul. For me that means letting go of my cooking blog for now, and more than likely letting go of this blog in the future. 

When I started this blog I did so because I needed a creative outlet, even if it seemed like I was shouting down a well most days. It was excellent writing practice. It gave me some positive feedback, and I made some amazing friends as a result of it. But with one contract signed, and wanting to publish more I’d much rather be working on my next book. I’m cutting back on my posts and holding on to this blog for now, because if life has taught me anything it has taught me that things change.

I’ve seen some snarky comments about bloggers staying on brand in the midst of the crazy, unsettling political and social upheaval going on right now. I have two things to say about that:

  1. Just because I don’t write about politics does not mean I don’t care. I am not unaware. Please do not suggest I am not sincere about my beliefs because I am not shouting them from this blog.  I am not a political blogger. I don’t plan on being one anytime soon. There are many many others more qualified than I am to do that. Go read their blogs. 
  2. In the midst of chaos a safe space that offers a peaceful place to rest your brain is necessary for survival. Stressing your adrenal glands long term without a break is a recipe for collapse. Life is a marathon not a sprint. I intend to survive this BS with my body and soul intact. 

Taking care of yourself enables you to cope with all the changes and stresses that come along and this is my message to you:

HAVE THE COURAGE TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.

 Make a list of things you are no longer going to do. Then find ways to stop doing those things. Let go of what is not working, make space for what is. Post it where you can see it as a reminder in your calendar, or journal, or the refrigerator.  I’ll go first. 

I’m no longer going to stress over getting everything done because I’m putting myself, my family, and my creative projects at the top of the list.

I’m no longer going to work on any creative projects that I don’t enjoy. This may seem radical but it’s not. If you need permission I’m going to give it to you. If a project no longer makes you happy/satisfied/fulfilled, just stop. That novel you’ve been working on so long, you don’t even remember why you started it? Let it go. Write something that makes you excited to sit down and work. Write something that feeds you.

I’m no longer going to do exercise that makes me dread putting on exercise clothes. That gym membership you signed up for and don’t use? Let it go. Find an exercise program that makes you happy, walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, city- league hockey, slow pitch soft ball, whatever gets you moving and makes you happy do that instead. 

I’m no longer going to attend family gatherings/parties/social events that are stressful. That annual family thing that makes you want to scream and run from the room? Let it go. Politely decline. No explanation is necessary. “I’m sorry I will not be able to attend,” is a complete sentence.

The amazing Audre Lord wrote these wise words, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Caring for myself means staying on brand, staying positive and fighting in my own way for the things I believe in. 

Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to care for yourself.