The Deep End of the Pool

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My kids have been swimming in this pool since they were twelve months old.  The first time we came to visit their grandparents we would all take turns with them in the water. We used tiny life jacket and floats to help them learn to navigate the pool.  Back home we spent hours at the YMCA pool with swim classes and family swim time. Beside the fact that I think that everyone should know how to swim as a matter of personal safety,  I wanted my kids to be comfortable in the water. Notice I said comfortable not cocky. I wanted them to respect the process of swimming and to understand that not everything in life can be “hacked”.

Work, practice, and more work are the keys to getting better and experiencing success at anything. And work means that, doing the thing you want to be better at, swimming, cooking, writing, whatever,  not reading about it, or talking about the thing. You have to do the thing. Short cuts are for road trips, not skills. There is no substitute for time and practice.

 I am constantly amazed by the people I meet who expect overnight success as a writer. Writing, just like swimming requires time and commitment and overcoming your fear. Submitting a  short story, or poem, or novel, or play, or whatever it is that you write is like jumping into the deep end of the pool.  

 Don’t expect the first time you submit your work to go smoothly.  You will freak out and stew and worry before you press the send button or drop the package in the mail.  You will most likely be rejected and flail and struggle to get to yourself to submit again. Don’t quit, be fearless, jump in with both feet, honor the process of learning and practice.  

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Do the work, hit the send button, then get back to work so you can jump again.

Focus: When All the Good Things Happen at Once

IMG_5466 It has been a while since I posted about staying on track with ADHD/ADD. I have been working on many projects and in the way that life goes many of their timelines overlap. I wrote here about keeping track of projects and it still is a great system but I did not anticipate the impact working with others can have on your project timelines.

Receiving a revise and resubmit, request for a professional report, and/or a proposal for an amazing project can derail the best time manager. For individuals with distraction issues time management is a constant struggle, add family responsibilities, the day job, and travel to the mix and you have a classic recipe for disaster, missed deadlines, wicked stress and sleepless nights.

Here are ten steps for dealing with positive overwhelm, staying on track and working towards your goals.

  1. Take at least fifteen minutes and breathe, get outside if you can. Your goal here is to reset and let your adrenal glands chill for a moment. If you really want to do it right take thirty minutes. And yes this part is necessary for step two.
  2. Make a list. Brain dump every little thing that is swirling around in your brain. I use poster size paper and sharpies for this, you do you and use whatever you like to get everything out of your head.
  3. Add deadlines to all the things. All of the scraps of paper and post it notes with dates on them, gather them up and get it all of it in one place.
  4. Now look at the list. Are there things you can let go? Or postpone? Let them go or reschedule. Be honest here with yourself. Your goal is to focus on those things that you must do to accomplish your long term goals.
  5. That planner/wall calendar/app you paid good money for and then abandoned? Get it out. Now add the new things, update the old things and add all the due dates.
  6. This is hard part. Choose what you have to give up to get all the things done. Even with the best time management system it is impossible to do all the things. That GoT addiction? Binge watching your favorite show may have to go. Do not give up your exercise program. Oh you already did? See the next step.
  7. Start taking at least fifteen minute every day to move. Dance, walk, jog, yoga, weeding the flower bed, whatever gets the blood flowing to your brain. If you want to go really crazy go for thirty minutes.
  8. Traveling in the midst of everything? Make a list of what you need to take with you to complete or work on your project. Talk with your family/traveling partners. Let them know what you need and come to some agreement about your work time. Be firm. Be realistic. While a family reunion might be great for story ideas, trying to complete a revise and resubmit between rounds of horseshoes/drinking beer/ and scarfing down Great Aunt Millie’s potato salad will most likely end in frustration.
  9. Step back and breathe again. Good things happening can be as overwhelming as bad things happening. You can do this.
  10. Reread this list and repeat these steps as often as you need to keep yourself on track.

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Busting Creativity Myths

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Creativity is often defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.” The problem with this definition is that it leads to the first myth of creativity: Creativity  is only expressed through Art with a capital A. This is not true. Creative acts are not limited to painting, singing, playing an instrument, writing, photography, etc. Creative acts include everything that requires thinking and problem solving. So add cooking, raising kids, playing games, and just about every other part of your life to the creative acts lists.

The second myth of creativity: Creative people sit around smoking/day drinking/ looking out the window/ holed up in a bar waiting for an idea to pop in to their head, perhaps aided by a muse like this:

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In my world I know many creative people and every one of them works at being creative. That’s right they work at their given medium: writing words, making up recipes, making photographs, designing buildings, using biomimicry to solve human problems, drawing, painting, sculpting, and coloring. None of them wait for inspiration, or the muse, or some stroke of divine insight to light them up, they work.

The third myth of creativity is the most insidious. Some people believe they are not creative beings. These people are the people that comment on  another’s creativity and it usually sounds like this: “that is so cool, I wish I was creative.”

Please believe that anyone can become more creative. We all are creative as children. We make up games, and stories and draw. I have to believe that the people who tell me they are not creative had someone tell them they were not “talented” or “gifted”  or “artistic” or make a harsh comment about their work. Let go of that. Tell that voice in your head to shut the hell up. Close your eyes and remember how it was when you were a kid and could fashion an entire adventure with nothing more than a cardboard box.

I believe that the drive to create is in all of us, it takes many forms but it is there, it just needs to be fed.  Give yourself space and time to think. Don’t think that what you create has to be shared, because it is fine to create to please yourself.  Don’t let other people’s opinions define you.  I believe that creative acts are self-care . Create. Feed your soul.

This is only a moment round as a peach you have not yet bitten into.” The Moon as Cat as Peach, Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems 1980-2010

What You Focus On Will Happen

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The title of this post is not a big secret. It is the key accomplishing anything. It is also the hardest thing for people with ADHD/ADD or other distraction issues to keep in mind when confronted with multiple choices and activities.

I wrote here  https://blog.writingwhiledistracted.com/?p=699  about how to plan and evaluate creative projects. Once you have chosen your project, how do you move forward? The answer is focus. Do you have more than one creative activity that you want to accomplish, or do you want to become more skilled in an activity? Plan focused time for your pursuits.

Even if all you can only spare thirty minutes out of your day you will get more accomplished in thirty minutes of focused activity than a day of distracted multitasking. Multitasking is a lie. It is a lie that will derail your efforts to accomplish anything of worth. The key is to focus your attention. Focus. Really focus. Put your phone down. Make your environment what you need it to be to help you focus. For me that means music, for others it may mean silence, or a busy coffee shop. Do what you need to help yourself. It is not selfish to take care of your own needs and pursue your creative projects.

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 Make whatever you are writing, creating, or thinking about be the only thing that you are doing. Guard your scheduled time for your pursuits. You will get more accomplished in thirty minutes of focused activity than a day of distracted multitasking. Say it with me: Multitasking is a lie. It is a lie that will derail your efforts to accomplish anything of worth. Write these words down where you can see them:

 What You Focus on Will Happen.

 

Have Journal Will Travel: Interview with Fiona Zedde

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I have written before about writing while traveling and keeping a journal while traveling as a way to infuse your writing with sensual energy and filling your creative well. Today’s post features one of my favorite authors, Fiona Zedde. Ms. Zedde recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of her first novel Bliss. I talk about my favorites of her novels in this post .

From her speculative fiction to her contemporary romance, Ms. Zedde never disappoints. Her novels are rich, sensuous and decadent. I live vicariously by following her travel adventures. As she prepares for the release of To Italy with Love and Other Stories, she very graciously took time out of her busy travel schedule to answer some questions about traveling as a writer.

  1. Have you always had the desire to travel?

Since I was twelve! I got on my first airplane when emigrating from Jamaica, and that’s when I fell in love with traveling. The entire experience captured my imagination and my interest – leaving one culture to immerse myself in another; hovering over the world and looking at it through strange little windows; even the food. I remember they served callaloo on that first Air Jamaica flight. I love food.

  1. Which comes first, the idea for a story in a certain setting, or choosing a setting and seeing what stories come from the experience?

Usually being in a particular setting will spawn ideas. Either through the things I experience in that place or because the setting itself is very evocative. Like the afternoon when I ended up riding on the back of an ancient motorbike through the medina in Marrakesh.

  1. Do you typically travel alone, or with other creatives/ writers/friends?

Actually a combination of both. I’ll travel somewhere with a friend and we’ll bum around together for a while then, once they go back home after a week or three, I travel on my own.

  1. Do you see all travel as research for writing or do you plan trips that are just about visiting family/friends/ relaxing without an agenda?

My official statement for my tax guy is “it’s all research!”

To clarify though, I’m a wanderer. I love seeing new places and experiencing new things. There’s nothing like being plopped down in a completely foreign culture, being disoriented by its unique structures and language then slowly feeling my way to familiarity, swimming back from that deep end. I treasure ways of turning those experiences into fiction.

  1. What are your top five destinations you have traveled to?

Morocco. Greece. Naples. Paris. Antwerp.

  1. What one destination do you want to revisit the most?

I feel a little clichéd in saying this, but it’s Paris. Their bakeries are amazing.

What are your top three travel tips for creatives abroad?

  1. Be open to traveling alone. You tend to meet more people when you’re not cliqued up and sometimes (subconsciously) closed off.
  2. If possible, experience a place at least twice.
  3. Make notes in your journal and take photos, of course. But not so much that you aren’t fully experiencing the moment.

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Jamaican-born Fiona Zedde currently lives and writes in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of several novellas and novels of lesbian love and desire, including the Lambda Literary Award finalists Bliss and Every Dark Desire. Her novel, Dangerous Pleasures, was winner of the About.com Readers’ Choice Award for Best Lesbian Novel or Memoir of 2012. Find out more at www.FionaZedde.com 

 

Rebalancing Act

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Rebalancing. The act of trying to stay on top of your commitments to yourself and others when your schedule changes. I have written before about why it is so hard for ADD/ADHD individuals to change their routines here. As a parent with ADD/ADHD it is hard enough keeping my own schedule together, let alone the little people in my house. We started using checklists for the kids so that they can help getting us out the door in the morning and into bed at a reasonable time at night. The checklists are working well for them, and after finding myself spinning like the Ferris wheel above trying to get myself out the door one morning I think I need a checklist for me. 

 Balance is really about rebalancing, letting go of what does not work and holding on to what does work. If I don’t take time to examine my schedule and change what is not working, I end up frustrated, and crazed, and not getting anything accomplished. I started out this Fall thinking that I would be able to drop the kids off and head to the pool for a swim workout. I neglected to factor in that there are two aquatic exercise classes for older people scheduled when I planned on swimming, that it resulted in a very crowded locker room, and fewer lanes for lap swimming.

I got so frustrated that I skipped my swimming exercise. After two weeks of blowing off swimming I realized that I just needed to adjust my time. Every exercise recommendation you ever see says to do your exercise first thing in the morning so that you don’t skip it, but for me, the morning is my most creative time, and the pool is too crowded. Instead of just giving up, I tried going after lunch and before I pick up the kids.  It worked, I get my swim time in, I have the locker room to myself, and I am in a better state of mind to deal with after-school-crazy time with my kids.

The willingness to try different ways to accomplish different tasks is key to success for people with ADD/ADHD. Let go of recommendations that do not work for you, and hold on to what works. Exercise really helps me with my focus, but I need to do it when it fits my schedule, not when everyone says you should do it.

This applies to every other task that people have opinions about when and how you should do it. For example almost every book of writing advice ever written advises that you write everyday.  Would that work for me? Nope, after a long shift at my day job I am too burnt out and tired. Write before my shift to get my writing in? Nope, not getting up at four in the morning to put words on paper, although I have stayed up to four in the morning writing when in a groove. What do I do instead of beating myself up about not writing everyday?  I make it count when I do write.  I set goals for word counts. I stick with what works for me.

Two years ago I participated in the madness that is NANOWRIMO (see my post here if you don’t know what NANOWRIMO is) I only had weekdays to write, and only for two hours and forty-five minutes. So I sat down and figured out how many words I had to write each day in that two hours and forty-five minutes to finish.  Did I write everyday? Nope, but I still managed to get fifty thousand words written in twenty days. Find what works and hold on to it, and let go of any advice that does not work for you. Listen to yourself, research, experiment, read and re-balance to find your center.

Be kind to yourself, don’t quit, find what works for you and do it.

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Persistence: Keep On Keeping On

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Persistence and patience are qualities that every writer needs. Persistence so that you can keep going when others do not understand why you do what you do, patience as you send your work out and wait for a reply. Persistence as you continue to write and submit and edit. Patience as you continue to carve out time to write when you have a job/family/other obligations. Persistence to fight for your time to create.

If you are a writer/creative you have to keep writing, even if is only one sentence, keep moving. Some writers struggle with getting words on the page, and I wrote a post about writer’s block and not having time for it, which you can read here.  Making progress and achieving your goals can be achingly slow, and I have written about slow progress here .

As a writer who wants to be published you have to keep writing and submitting your work, you have to keep producing, and you have to keep sending it out there. Why? Because one day you might just get that acceptance letter instead of a rejection, because if you don’t send it out no one will ever read/see/experience your work.

If you are writing and creating just for yourself, with no intention of ever sharing your work with anyone else that is fine, but if you are serious about sharing your work with others you have to be persistent. The flip side of persistence is patience. It is hard to be patient, hard to wait for decisions to be made about your work.
So, what should you do to cope with the time between when you send your work off and hearing back, and how do you cope with rejection if you work is not accepted? Get to work.

Write, create, paint, photograph, throw clay pots, whatever it is that you do creatively, get back to work. Be patient. Be persistent. Keep going.

This week a short story that I wrote was published. It is not the first time I have been published, but this is the first of my fiction that has been published, and that makes it is special. So how did I celebrate? I wrote this piece, and got back to work.

Here is the publisher’s link  for the book. I hope that you check it out, the stories are unique and I am very happy to have my work included in this anthology.

Here is the link to Cheyenne Blue’s site for more information and tantalizing bits about the writers included in the this anthology http://www.cheyenneblue.com/

 

 

 

Here is the Amazon link for the book

 

For Your Consideration:Ten Tips for Submitting Creative Work

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While most often associated with gambling, the phrase ” if you don’t play you can’t win” is what I say to myself every time I send off a submission for review, not because it is a gamble but because of the truth of the statement. If you are one of the many who dream of having your work traditionally published, displayed in a gallery, or publicly recognized, you have to submit it for consideration by other people.
Is is easy? Yes, it is easy to hit send, but it can be incredibly stressful to assemble a submission package, book proposal, portfolio, manuscript, short story, or any other creative project. Some people get so overwhelmed they never submit anything. It is an act of confidence for any creative person to submit their work for review. As Erykah Badu says ” I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my sh*t…” and Ms. Badu is so right. I have yet to meet a creative person who is not personally invested in their work.

Just reading submission guidelines can be overwhelming and knowing that making a mistake can get your submission rejected before it is ever reviewed can create so much stress that many individuals give up. A large percentage of creative people have attention issues and struggle with details. Here are ten organizational tips to make the submission process less stressful.

1. Read the submission guidelines. Read them again. Print them out, underline, and highlight the requirements for the submission.
2. Enter all deadlines on your calendar. What no calendar? Read my post on keeping track of multiple deadlines and projects here.
3. Start a computer folder, a flat file or file box and keep everything related to the project in one location.This keeps key information and work together.

4. Date all drafts, or versions of your project. This prevents you from sending the wrong version of the file when it is time to send in the final version.5. Set reminders for key dates, these can be written reminders or electronic reminders.

6. Have another person, preferably someone who is detail oriented review your submission before you send it. Give them the guidelines and ask them to review your submission to see if you have everything required. Buy this person a beverage of their choice for helping you.

7. Be realistic and take your time. This is very difficult for many creative people, and particularly difficult for people with ADD/ADHD. Creating is fun, paying attention to details not so much, but if your brilliant work is never reviewed because you did not follow the submission guidelines you are defeating yourself.

8. Remember that as hard as it is to hit “send” or mail that package, it is the only way it is going to get reviewed: If you don’t play you can’t win.

9. Expect to have some anxiety after you submit your work. See Ms. Badu’s quote above, then get to work on your next project.

10. Celebrate. You have done something that many people dream of and never ever do. Celebrate your determination, celebrate your work, celebrate no matter what.

So hit the send button, drop off the portfolio, submit your creative work, jump in with both feet.

Slow But Steady: Any Progress is Progress

I love this turtle because he helps me to remember that no matter how slow you are moving, if you keep moving you will get there. Through kids being sick, through family illness, through birth, death, and all of life’s messy bits, and most of all through your own inability to focus, if you keep moving you will reach your destination. Remember this when you are frustrated with your creative output: keep going.

I had a short fiction piece accepted this week for publication in an upcoming anthology. My kids think it is pretty awesome that I’m going to have a story in “a chapter book”, and so do I.   I’m not going to go into how long it has been since I had a piece published, or how many rejections proceeded this acceptance, or how many times I have submitted manuscripts, because none of it matters. The point of this post is this: all those days that I squeezed in fifteen minutes of writing made a difference. Not giving up is what matters. If you quit writing, it is impossible to get anything published.

I will confess to struggling mightily in the warm months to stick to my writing schedule. The lure of outside kicks my ADHD into high gear. After a winter of being inside all I want to do is play. My kids are home in the summer time, and that cuts into my writing time as well. I have some ways of dealing with kids at home and last year I posted some tips for sticking to your writing schedule when your kids are out of school, and you can read them here .

Even if you take some writing breaks over the summer, make it productive, read that To Be Read Pile, collect photographs, experiences, and memories to feed your writing later.

Most of all don’t give up, if you keep writing you will finish. Just keep moving. If you can only write one sentence, write a sentence. Like snowflakes it will add up. It may take years for you to accomplish what others accomplish in a month, it is okay, just keep writing.

Stick with it. Keep going, don’t quit, enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Research for Writers: Ten Tips for Location Research

 

This is the beginning of a series of posts on research for writers. Some writers do a large amount of location research before they start a project, some do research as they go along, others of us may pick up bits and pieces like crazed crows gathering up every little shiny object or fact that catches our eye, add a little ADHD to the mix and location research can become overwhelming.

I fall in to the crazed crow category, and have talked about how I have organized my bits and pieces and ideas using flat files here , and how to make the most of collecting ideas when traveling here. I wrote about how to know when to stop researching and start writing here.

Here are ten tips for being productive when you research locations for your non-fiction, creative non-fiction, novel, short story, screenplay or other creative writing project.

1. Location research does not have to be long distance. Google Earth  has put much of the world just a mouse click or finger swipe away. If you are setting your story in a real place, even if the characters are fictional, readers will take you to task if you are mistaken in your geography.

2. Travel guides are your friends. If you are able to visit a location, take advantage of travel guidebooks. Most libraries carry travel guidebooks.  Lonely Planet travel guides are my favorite and no they don’t pay me to say that. If you are not able to travel to the location, a guidebook is helpful for researching your setting.  If your work is not contemporary, library sales are an excellent way to find out of print/ older guidebooks and old maps for getting the scenes right.

3. If you are going to travel, plan before you go. Plan, plan, and plan again. I work from a thick outline, and make notes to myself in the margins about research, that needs to be completed for the story. Using my notes, I create a list of places to visit, things to experience, and people I would like to interview.

4. Borrowing from the film and photography industry make a shot list.  For photographers and film makers a shot list is a list of photographs to take or scenes to film.  I use photos for much of my research because I am a visual organizer. If you are not into taking photos this is simple a list of places or events you want to visit or observe. Some writers sketch locations if photographs are inappropriate for the location or event.

5. Local guides can be invaluable if you have limited time.  Members of historical societies, hiking groups, amateur photography clubs, and/or friends of friends can be more than willing to answer questions, point out the best places for photos, accompany you to events, or provide history and details that only locals know. Be respectful of their time, offer to pay for fuel or food or both if they take you on a tour that involves motorized transportation. A thank you card is always appreciated.

6. Be respectful of local culture. Dress appropriately, this is another instance where local guides can be helpful. People should never be treated like animals in the zoo. Always ask permission if you wish to photograph people, and respect their answer if it is no. Most people will answer polite questions. If they ask why you want to know, be truthful. Many people will be happy to answer respectfully presented questions, and if not, move on.

7. Journal your experiences, even if you don’t normally keep a journal. Find a way to record your impressions, feelings, tastes, sounds, and what you see. All of this can be used, if not for a current project for a later one.

9. Push your limits, try new things, but be safe. Pay attention to your surroundings. Leave an itinerary if you are traveling alone. Listen to your gut, if something does not feel right if most likely is not safe.

10. Travel light, keep your gear simple, and have a back up plan if the location/event you planned to visit is not available.

Don’t be afraid of location research, use these tips, make your trip productive and most of all have fun.