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Posts tagged ‘time’

Zoë: Breaking the Silence

Many of you will resonate with this moving portrait from guest blogger Zoë Purdy, a freelance writer and editor. Zoë lives with her husband and three children in Toronto, Canada.

Zoe Purdy

“I’ve been thinking, and I don’t want to be a mother when I grow up,” Sofie announced gravely one day when she was about three years old. “Oh, yeah?” I answered. “Well, you get to decide, of course, but you don’t have to make up your mind until you’re an adult.” She nodded, the relief evident on her face. Sofie is my middle child, cheerful and smart, stubborn and quirky.

“Babies are cute and stuff,” she went on, “but if I have one of my own then I’ll have to take care of it.” “True enough,” I agreed. “And you don’t think you’d enjoy taking care of a baby?” Sofie has always been gentle and empathetic, and of my three children I think of her as the most nurturing. She is the one who wants to bring every ailing insect and earthworm home to be nursed back to health. When our youngest was a baby, Sofie eagerly suggested ways to soothe her when she cried: nursing, cuddling, feeding her an ice-cream sundae, covering her in stickers. It surprised me to hear that she didn’t find the idea of motherhood attractive. “It’s just that there are so many other things that I want to do and if I’m a mother, I won’t get to do them,” she explained in a matter-of-fact tone.

I protested, of course, forcing myself to sound enthusiastic despite the ache I felt gathering in my chest. I told her that being a mother is only one part of who I am, albeit a very important part. There was absolutely no reason why she couldn’t do all those incredible things she imagined and have a baby. I believed what I was saying, but I know that it fell flat. This is why: as a parent, how I engage with life and who I am fundamentally as a person have far more impact on my children than anything I actively try to teach them.

Over the next days and weeks I returned to that conversation again and again. Something bothered me and it wasn’t that my daughter’s vision of her adult life didn’t include children. If she ultimately decides that parenthood isn’t for her, I won’t object. No, what really bothered me was this: my daughter found my life unappealing and I really couldn’t fault her for it. I had let myself be swallowed whole by motherhood and I had barely noticed. When had I given up on doing gratifying and important work myself? When had I decided that it was enough to raise other people who might grow up to do interesting things, to make their own valuable contributions to the world?

Three-year-olds are fickle creatures. You could ask Sofie what she wants to do when she grows up and get a different answer every day of the week. I’m sure that I too entertained a variety of career fantasies as a child, but one thing has remained constant throughout my life: my love of the written word. I have been devoted to writing and books for as long as I can remember.

My mother tells me that I dictated stories to her before I could read and write. Later I took to carrying around a small notebook just like one of my favourite storybook heroines, Harriet the Spy. As we rode the bus I would jot down notes about the other passengers and then spin off into wild speculations about their lives. At school I was known as a daydreamer — I was always busy putting together stories in my head, making up characters and sticking them into different scenarios to see what would happen.

Sofie writingI was a shy child who was constantly told to speak up at school. Whenever a teacher read my writing for the first time, they always remarked with surprise that my voice was so strong and clear. In writing, I was able to try out other lives, to get out of my own head and inhabit someone else’s. It’s not that I was unhappy with my particular circumstances or with who I was; I simply wasn’t content to experience everything through only one set of eyes when books and my imagination gave me the ability to live and to feel so much more broadly and deeply.

I felt a kinship with the protagonist of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel Matilda. I almost cried in recognition when I read these lines: “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.”

As I got older, I never gave any thought to whether I could make my living as a writer. I always assumed that I would find a different way to support myself, but I never doubted that I would continue to write. It was a part of who I am, as basic and incontrovertible as the colour of my eyes.

When I graduated from university with a degree in English literature, I had no firm plan for what would come next. My boyfriend Erik was working on his PhD in chemical engineering at the time, and he spent his days in the lab developing a novel method of aerosol sampling. We joked that our relationship represented the meeting of Arts and Science. While there are plenty of good things to be said about a liberal arts program, it doesn’t prepare you for any specific occupation. Engineering majors become engineers, while English majors become… Englishologists? Baristas? My fellow graduates were all heading off to teacher’s college and law school in droves, but I hadn’t applied to either. I already had a full-time job at a bookstore. While I didn’t envision myself in retail forever, selling books certainly beat selling coffee. I decided to take a year to work and figure out what to do next.

I cast a wide net, sending out resumes and applications to anything that looked remotely appealing. I was particularly interested in a Master of Fine Arts in writing and literature. Spending a couple of years in an MFA program doing nothing but writing and reading was incredibly appealing. Even better, for the first time in my life I would be in the company of other people who thought that these activities were not only legitimate but also important. It was a way to put off adult life and its responsibilities a while longer. There was scholarship money available, and undergraduate teaching or editorial internships could offset the costs further while providing work experience. It wasn’t entirely impractical. I put together my portfolio, rustled up some reference letters, and summoned the courage to send in my applications.

The acceptance letter came that spring, the day after I found out that I was pregnant. Erik and I had agreed that we wanted children, but in that vague way you talk about things that are too far away to feel real. This, however, was real. When the shock wore off, we welcomed the idea of a baby. The timing wasn’t perfect: we weren’t married, we had no money, and Erik was still a student himself. The MFA would have necessitated moving across the country — so for now, school and motherhood were mutually exclusive. I turned down the offer. I told myself that I was postponing it rather than giving up on the idea entirely, but then, as if on cue, I stopped writing. As my belly grew, I imagined my creativity being channeled into the new life within it.

That autumn just after the new school year started, I gave birth to our son. Max entered the world in dramatic fashion, an accidental homebirth. Erik remembered only one thing from our prenatal class and it turned out to be highly relevant: newborns are extremely slippery, and you must keep a firm grasp on them if you don’t want to drop them onto the floor. So on that sunny fall afternoon we went from being two individuals to being a family of three. The world turned upside down. Read more

The True Genius of Mothers

The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.

By Suzi Banks Baum

frost doodleI strive for One Thing Only. But I was not doing one thing only last week at my 18-year-old’s ski race. I’m not sure exactly what I was doing when I left the sidelines and accepted my son’s invitation to step onto the back of his skis for a “little ride” down the mountain. He’d just fallen during his ski race — not badly, but a fall that disqualified him. I wanted to be near him, just to make sure he was okay. That was one thing.

The other thing, the idea of a “little ride,” is what gave me a black eye.

That ride on the slick skis of a slalom racer landed me face-first in the icy snow on the downward slope of a small mountain in the frigid evening air, where I never would have ended up if I’d listened to my inner guidance and stayed home to make soup, but I did not heed that thought, no, there I was on the slopes to cheer. (Something of the crowd’s response told me that cheering is just not done at races. Maybe that is why my boy fell?)

Well. I yelled anyway. I believe in my kids knowing they are being seen.

But I did not yell when I fell.

8452838039_db8de2fe8b_mNo, headfirst in the snow, then sitting up with my cold hand pressed to my hot cheek, I silently beheld the egg blooming under my skin. Now, doing one simple thing, but holding about 10 other thoughts in my mind. “Is anything broken? Why did I listen to my kid? Argh, he makes me nuts! Oh, but he fell too. How is he? Hurt? Embarrassed? Do I need an EMT? What about dinner now? I hate dinner! Will I be able to teach this weekend?”

This morning, I read: “True genius is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts simultaneously without losing your mind.” Charles Baudelaire wrote that. I’d say he was describing the genius of mother-thoughts entirely.

Some days, I ace thinking one thing at a time. Quiet prevails, the phone is ignored, the Wi-Fi is off, and the laundry dries peacefully on the line, no one needs me, no one is hollering my name from another part of the house, no meal awaits creation, no ski race demands my yelling, just me. Here. With you, the little black tendrils that I coax into letters that make these words that give form to my thoughts.

It is a simple as that.

8348911559_0c808ed79c_mWhen I have been multi-tasking too much, I doodle to settle myself. Then, with my concentration engaged, I can write.

One little black thread of a line leads to another.

And of those thoughts, those layers and layers of mother-thoughts, I work around them, never truly shedding them, but today, I can see they are part of my genius.

Merci, Monsieur Baudelaire. Now please pass the ice pack.


suzi_banks_baumGrowing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan made author, blogger, artist, and fulltime mom Suzi Banks Baum a lover of winter. Not afraid of the blank page, blank canvas, or wide expanse of snow, she makes patterns and trails, worlds and visions with her work. Suzi is about to launch an anthology of writings by women on mothering and creativity entitled An Anthology of Babes: Thirty-six Women Give Motherhood a Voice. The book will be sold at her March 1, 2013 event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers called Out of the Mouths of Babes: An Evening of Mothers Reading to Others. You can find Suzi at  Laundry Line Divine or at the 10X10on10 Arts Festival in Pittsfield, MA, this month or better yet, out ice-skating.

How to Do One Thing at a Time

The piece below originally appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter.

How to Do One Thing at a TimeIn our do-it-all-now culture, multitasking is considered a skill. Just look at a few help wanted ads online — most job descriptions call for candidates who are able to “multitask.”

But we know from research that multitasking is actually unnatural and inefficient. “Do two or more things simultaneously, and you’ll do none at full capacity.”

Multitasking is the antithesis of the concept of “flow” or “being in the zone,” as identified by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. We want flow. It’s an essential part of creativity. Can you be creative when you’re unfocused and distracted? Sure. But the output probably won’t be as great — or feel as good — as what you get when you experience flow.

While it may be a lot to expect to enter flow on a daily basis, it’s not too much to develop work habits that support doing one thing at a time. I recently realized that my own habits had reached new depths of multitasking frenzy. The ugly truth looked something like this:

I’m in the middle of a client project and reflexively check my e-mail. A new action item comes in — something that will only take a couple of minutes to take care of. So I do that quick thing, and in the process remember that I’ve forgotten to order more paper towels. So I go to amazon to order paper towels and realize that I need to order a few other things too. I try to remember what those things are while going to the kitchen to make a fresh cup of tea. I unload the dishwasher while waiting for the kettle to boil. Back at my desk, finishing the amazon order, I get a text from one of my sons asking for a ride home from the train station later. I look at my schedule and realize that I have to make an ATM deposit, which I can do on the way to the train station. I take a few minutes to put together my deposit, which requires me to open my bookkeeping application and make a few entries. I glance at my to-do list and realize that I’m overdue for posting an update to a client’s facebook account. I go to facebook to make the update, but inevitably see my personal notifications at the same time. I get sucked into the feed. I click through to external pages. When a page is slow to load, I open another browser window and read news headlines or take a turn in Words With Friends. I realize it’s getting late and I really need to finish the client project I started with. I work on that for a a short burst before reflexively checking my e-mail again and the whole cycle repeats in some variation.

A pathetic spin on If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Can you relate?

At the end of the day, I’d have the unpleasant feeling of having been busy for hours without having made much measurable progress — and without having done anything to the best of my ability. That doesn’t work well, and doesn’t feel good.

How had I gone so awry? How could doing just one thing at a time possibly be so complicated? I knew it had something to do with electronic life — and the real-time availability and demands that come with it. I realized that I needed some training wheels. More than training wheels, I needed some duct tape and a hammer. I had to start doing one thing at a time, doing each task until a) it was completed or b) for external or predetermined reasons I had to stop. Duh. But for some reason, I couldn’t get myself to stick to this simple framework.

Enter the time log, which has — literally — transformed my life. We know that dieters who write down everything they eat lose more weight than those who don’t. There’s something about having to fess up — even if just to yourself — that encourages you to stick with your intentions. Here’s what I started doing.

In the “notes” side of my two-page per day planner (although you could use anything — including a sheet of paper) I write down the time and what task I’m starting. When the moment comes that I need/want to do something else, I write down the time and what I’m about to do. I can do anything I want, but I can only do the one thing I last wrote down. If I’m going to change tasks, I have to write it down first.

It’s that simple. Write down the time and what you’re about to do. Then do that one thing, and only that thing, until you need/want to do something else. Then write that thing down. Repeat. If something unexpected comes up and you need to deal with it, write it down. That’s now your one “thing.”

Here’s an excerpt from my log for Friday, February 1, 2013:

10:00 work on Coaching Circle planner
11:31 Client coaching call
12:05 work on Coaching Circle planner
12:26 e-mail Coaching Circle planner to recipients
12:35 check facebook
12:38 check e-mail/respond client messages
12:40 lunch and playtime with Liam
2:27 help Emma with online project
2:57 check e-mail/respond client messages
3:10 draft blog post
3:50 write e-mail to EB
3:55 send messages to coaching clients
4:20 writing practice
5:15 depart for Matthew pickup

You get the idea. The thing is, if I hadn’t been keeping this log, I wouldn’t have stuck with that 90-minute focused work block at 10:00, and I wouldn’t have refrained from checking e-mail during my playtime with Liam. Keeping this log continually reminds me of my commitment to doing just one thing at a time, and to doing it as well as I can. For larger projects, I decide ahead of time that I’m going to spend 60 or 90 minutes on that project. Then, if necessary, I stop and move on to the other things that have to get taken care of.

Want to try it? I encourage you to use paper for your time log, rather than an electronic device. Paper is immediate — and unplugged. It isn’t full of distractions like your phone and computer. And I think there’s something about having a log in your own handwriting that keeps it all “real.”

Do yourself a big favor and close your e-mail client and all social media when you’re not actually “doing” those things. Sticking to your time log is easier without those added temptations.

It also helps to spend some time in the morning outlining what you need and want to get done that day, so that as you finish one thing, you don’t get lost trying to decide on the next. Assign time estimates to each task on your list beforehand. And if you like to take a lot of breaks, by all means, take them! Just write down what you’re doing. Then you don’t run the risk of kidding yourself when your 20-minute break turns into a 2-hour social media binge.

The only downside to the log is that now I feel lost without it. I’ve started using it from the moment I get up in the morning. It helps me avoid OD’ing on Words With Friends when I really want to be doing my Morning Pages.

If you’re motivated to try this, or have another plan for reducing your busy-ness, please share it below!


If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$11.98. Available for download here.

Coach, You Gotta Walk the Talk

CommunityAs a creativity coach, I have an obligation to walk the talk. It’s important to me that my coaching strategies come not just from training and books, but from real-life experience and an active personal practice. If I were to champion the virtues of an early morning creative practice, for example, while I was secretly sleeping until noon and hadn’t flexed a creative muscle in years, I’m pretty sure that most of you would call me a fraud. And I’d have to agree.

In this vein, I recently came to an important decision.

I often work with clients who struggle with extreme shortages of time but are seemingly unable to edit anything out of their schedules. Looking in as an outsider, it’s not hard for me to identify items that might merit the chopping block in order to free up time for creative work. While I can make gentle suggestions, ultimately, those decisions can’t come from me; they have to come from the client’s own shifting perspective. That shift requires looking at everything with openness and a willingness to see beyond “I can’t.”

This year, like many of my clients, I found myself in the position of having too much to do — way too much to do — and being unable to see how I might do less. “But it’s all good, important, relevant stuff!” I told myself. “I’ve already gotten rid of the obvious things!” (Volunteering for the PTA, for example. Duh.)

Many of you know that in January of this year, I opened Open Studio Groton, a brick-and-mortar studio here in Massachusetts, with my dear friend and business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Open Studio was launched as a place where people in our community could connect, create, and grow. Looking back over the year, we have an amazing collection of successes to celebrate. Connections have been made over ideas, projects, and conversations. Artwork, manuscripts, businesses, friendships — all were created in our cozy little space. Individuals connected and grew in their own ways: some developed into stronger writers through our writers’ workshops and writers’ groups, some became more flexible yogis through Buddha Nest Yoga, some enjoyed our other diverse offerings, from blacksmithing to writing a personal creed. Four talented artists had shows in our space. Personal friendships were formed; our community grew stronger.

To our surprise, our little experiment turned out to be sustainable. We hit the black in late spring, even while we were still refining our elevator speech. (“What *is* Open Studio, anyway?”) But over the months, we often scrambled to keep all of our many studio balls in the air. The marketing alone, as with any business, was a considerable undertaking. (“Crap! I need to write that press release within the hour!”) Other areas of my life were neglected this year. One of you dear readers even wrote to me to inquire about what happened to my formerly monthly newsletter — which was just one of several sacrifices (my garden, my sanity, and the folding of clean laundry were a few others) that I didn’t want to make.

Ellen and I both have other businesses to take care of (in addition to coaching I own an editorial services business — and Ellen is a children’s book author and children’s yoga instructor). Open Studio made so much sense, bringing together so many of our passions — and it still makes sense. But in the space of a week this fall, we went from planning 2013 to acknowledging that if the two of us wanted to stay sane, we needed to pull back, take stock, and reaffirm our primary commitments.

It isn’t easy to let go of something when it’s relevant to your life work, the community supports your efforts, and you’ve already launched on your planned trajectory. But the inescapable truth is that there are only 168 hours in the week. When there are too many things to fit in your box, you have to take something out. In this instance, you can’t actually get a bigger box. It’s really that simple.

And so it became clear that while the studio as a business is sustainable, the time that it requires on both of our parts is not. As I sometimes remind clients, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” My threshold for investing personal energy — and time — has to have a finer filter. Because energy, like time, is finite. I am committed to my personal writing practice. I am committed to my coaching work. I am committed to my editorial business. I am committed to my family. I am committed to myself: reading, yoga, breathing. I am committed to moving slowly enough that I can savor where I’m at. Because if I’m not savoring, what’s the point?

The studio will close on December 31 and Ellen and I will turn with renewed focus to all the other things requiring our attention. But we’ll have a few more ounces of focus at our disposal, and a few more minutes at hand. Hopefully, we’ll do a better job with everything that remains. Most importantly, we’ll celebrate the success of 2012, and affirm the value of doing a little less — and doing it well.

Oh, and by the way. Stay tuned for my next newsletter. ;-)

(Ellen Olson-Brown contributed more than a few words to this post. Thanks, E.)

Writer’s Block: Fact or Fiction?

Writer’s block. Whether or not you’re a writer, as a creative person you know what it feels like to be paralyzed by the page, the canvas, the studio — completely unable to move forward. Whether you feel bereft of ideas and inspiration or are simply unable to realize an existing project, banging your head against your creative work doesn’t ever feel good.

As a creativity coach, I can tell you that the best protection against writer’s block is to show up and do your creative work every day, on schedule. (Those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo this year know that you don’t have the luxury of being blocked.) The force of habit is a powerful antidote for creative paralysis.

But sometimes a block does seem insurmountable. You show up, install your butt in the chair, and gnash your teeth for two hours. You find yourself doing anything and everything aside from your creative work. You spend so much time doing “research” on the web that you can’t even remember what you’re researching. Suddenly you find yourself reading about how yellow was an exceptionally popular color among Latvian car buyers in 1982 and realize just how far you’ve sunk.

Now, if you’ve been procrastinating for months/years, then you’re not doing your work at all, which is a different topic. But what if you are doing your work, merrily rolling along, and then one day — BAM! — you can’t dredge up so much as a line of prose or a square inch of canvas? What’s going on? Should you plow on through with your eyes closed, or give yourself space to percolate and breathe?

I was struck by these two contrasting views of writer’s block:

Toni Morrison: “When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s not. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.

Thomas Mallon: “My prescription for writer’s block is to face the fact that there is no such thing. It’s an invented condition, a literary version of the judicial ‘abuse excuse.” Writing well is difficult, but one can always write something. And then, with a lot of work, make it better. It’s a question of having enough will and ambition, not of hoping to evade this mysterious hysteria people are always talking about.”

What do you think? I’ve generally been of the mind that there’s no block that can stand up to the bulldozer of a 500-word daily quota. But in recent months, I too have had days when even 500 words were impossible. I had to wait out torture at the keyboard (literally, on my wordcount log, I wrote “hours of torture” next to my piddly 62 words for the day). Thankfully, those periods pass and invariably I return to flow. Still, more often than not, I think there’s a danger in giving writer’s block more credit than it deserves. It becomes too easy to shrug off our work when it gets difficult. Of course it’s difficult; it wouldn’t be worth doing if it were easy, would it? Hitting an uncomfortable patch doesn’t mean that we need to put a “gone fishing” sign on the door and tell ourselves to wait for the muse to return.

As Jodi Picoult put it, “Writing is total grunt work. A lot of people think it’s all about sitting and waiting for the muse. I don’t buy that. It’s a job. There are days when I really want to write, days when I don’t. Every day I sit down and write.”

And one of my favorites, from William Faulkner: “I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.”

What’s your view of writer’s block? Where, in your opinion, is the line between being at a creative crossroads and merely giving in to another excuse to avoid your work?


Writer’s Block? Meet NaNoWriMo

It’s November 1, which means that thousands of writers around the world are throwing themselves into the month-long writing marathon known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This group of participants — improbable as it might seem — include people with children, people with jobs, and people with far too many other commitments to even consider doing such a thing. They do it anyway. This project has given birth to several New York Times bestsellers, so it’s not just an exercise in frustration. Although it may certainly be that too, as evidenced by a perusal of Instagram photos from Day 1 (a few highlights seen below).

Blocked or not, nothing cures procrastination like a massive deadline and public accountability, both of which NaNoWriMo provides, if you so choose.

(If you’re an artist but would like to take advantage of this kind of inspiration-on-steroids, check out November’s Art Every Day Month, the initiative of Leah Piken Kolidas.)


What is NaNoWriMo, really? Here’s the organization’s press release on this year’s festivities:

If on November 1 you hear furious keyboard pounding echoing around the world, fear not. It is the sound of more than 250,000 people beginning a literary challenge of epic proportions: 30 days, 50,000 words, and one original novel.
Why? Because November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the world’s largest writing event and nonprofit literary crusade. Participants pledge to write 50,000 words in a month, starting from scratch and reaching “The End” by November 30. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them.
“NaNoWriMo is the writing world’s version of a marathon,” said Grant Faulkner, executive director of National Novel Writing Month. “Writers exit the month with more than a novel; they’ve experienced a transformative creative journey.” More than 650 regional volunteers in more than 60 countries will hold write-ins, hosting writers in coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. Write-ins offer a supportive environment and surprisingly effective peer pressure, turning the usually solitary act of writing into a community experience.
“Not only did I write 50,000 words by November 30, I also had cheerleaders from the next block, from across the Atlantic and from NaNoWriMo daily blogs,” said participant Twana Biram. “Imagine getting pep talks through the heavy irony and hilarity of Lemony Snicket, and the clarity and appreciation of fan fiction from Mercedes Lackey.”
With NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program, that community crosses age boundaries into K-12 classrooms around the globe. The YWP allows kids and teens to set their own word-count goals, and offers educators high-quality free resources to get nearly 100,000 students writing original, creative works.
Although the event emphasizes creativity and adventure over creating a literary masterpiece, more than 90 novels begun during NaNoWriMo have since been published, including Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and Cinder by Marissa Meyer, all #1 New York Times Best Sellers.
“You can’t revise what isn’t written yet, right? This novel-in-a-month challenge is such a fantastic way to jump-start your story,” said Lindsey Grant, NaNoWriMo’s Program Director. “Plus it is officially the most fun—and effective—way to shed the constant self-doubts and inner-criticisms and simply pour that story onto the page.”
For more information on National Novel Writing Month, or to speak to NaNoWriMo participants in your area, visit

I’d heart it more if I didn’t have writers block #nanowrimo
Thu, Nov 01 2012 02:31:40

Well this has started well. #book #writing #nanowrimo #sarcasm
Thu, Nov 01 2012 01:37:26

#nanowrimo #writing #nojoke #50kin30days
Thu, Nov 01 2012 02:44:43

Already up and over day 1 goal. Can’t wait to wake up and write more. Goodnight, and good luck. #NaNoWriMo
Thu, Nov 01 2012 02:51:28

Christine: Creative Frustrations

Oh, look! The kids are busy playing, the chores are done for the moment, and I don’t need to start dinner yet…I think I’ll grab a few minutes and start working on something from my sketchbook. Out I go to the workshop and I get out my tools and my materials and start working away at this idea, the one that’s been burning a hole in my brain for the past week! It’s going to be great! I can see the finished piece already!

It’s all going so well, and then….it’s not. I fumble a piece of copper coated with enamel and drop it on the floor, I smash my thumb with a hammer, and then lose the teeny tiny rivet I was trying to tap into place. I break a saw blade, and realize I cut out the wrong size shape and punched too large of a hole in it.

The errors and injuries increase and are compounded the harder I work. I know the kids are happily playing, but I know it won’t stay that way for hours, and I’m running out of time. I feel like screaming, or throwing something (always a bad idea in the workshop), and I can feel my agitation level rise.

GAH! Why does this happen? For me, any number of reasons. To begin with, one of the things I struggle with from time to time is claiming my “artist-ness”; that is, allowing myself to really believe that I am an artist, that I have talent and skill, and that what I can do really is unique. Whenever I am in a position of feeling less than confident, this old monster rears its ugly head. And I have to firmly shush it. Read more

Miranda: One Dreamy Day in June

Yesterday was one of those days. No, not one of THOSE days, but one of those days. Those rare, crystalline days when the clock seems to slow its frantic pace — and magically, there’s time for everything.

I woke up before my alarm went off, feeling refreshed after an unusually restful weekend. Seemingly without effort, I went through my morning routine (20 minutes of meditation, breakfast and lunches for the family, planning the day and a brief intention journal entry, tidied the house, and started a load of laundry). Then I took Liam (my youngest) to preschool and came home to finish a client writing project while Aidan (my 6-year-old, already out of school for the summer) played Lego Star Wars. Then I completed the week’s menu plan, cleaned out the fridge, and took Aidan and the dog for a thoroughly enjoyable walk. We then went off to do the grocery shopping, run an errand, and read a few pages in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in the parking lot before it was time to get Liam.

Already feeling in the flow, we came home and the boys played in the driveway with a fresh set of sidewalk chalk while I put the groceries away. Then we went downstairs to the teenagers’ man-cave to hear some new Dear Hunter tracks that my oldest (Russell, home from college) wanted to play for me. The little guys jumped gleefully on the sectional and wrestled on the floor while I enjoyed a cup of coffee, smiling as Russell tackled Liam, who screamed in glee. It’s amazing to watch my children, in their wide range of ages, enjoy each other.

The rainy morning had cleared into sunshine, so after I advanced the laundry we all moved out onto the patio. Russell tried to focus on his own book as I read another chapter in Harry Potter to Aidan. Liam was in and out, playing with the cats and absconding with my iPhone. After a good long reading session, Aidan ran off to join his other older brother, Matthew, who was playing hacky sack in the driveway with a few of his friends. I figured this was a good time to work on a short piece I’m writing for the upcoming CCA newsletter, so while Liam was still busy with my phone (and nearly falling asleep) I sat with him on the couch and knocked out the short article. It was one of those beautifully satisfying writing sessions where the piece comes together on its own. I sent it off for review, feeling utterly content. I had finished both of the writing projects that I’d planned for the day.

With a bit more time to spare (how was this possible?) the little boys and I played a long game of Sorry and then had Loud and Crazy Dance Time while I assembled dinner (chef’s salad night, where I put out a dozen different salading items, make some fresh salad dressing, and everyone fixes their own). My husband hadn’t come home from work yet, the older boys were busy with friends, and my daughter was passed out cold (more on that here) so Aidan, Liam, and I had dinner on our own, followed by an overly gluttonous feast of organic kiwi. Read more

Cathy: Results!

Remember this list?

I spent the previous two days at writing camp with my writing group. Two whole days dedicated to writing. Yesterday I had a different meeting in the morning, but then I headed straight to  my writing camp’s day two, and thought I was going to have trouble, but amazingly got right to it! I seriously surprised myself by what I accomplished in the last 48 hours!

The List now looks like this:

DONE~continue to edit Joe out/Mike into Thanksgiving and Observatory scenes

DONE~write observatory scene using A. H.’s notes

Fixed~pay attention to name changes for T. B. and T. N.

working on~characterize supporting characters more through action and physical description

working on~make ‘thought bubbles’ action scenes or move them to more fitting scene

working on~edit down cooking relevance

mostly finished, maybe a bit more at the end~more on comets

I also edited it a bit more in making sentences and paragraphs more succinct in the first 50 or so pages.

I need to edit the observatory scene now, but at least it’s on paper – er, computer screen. I think my next stage is to print and edit again by hand. I read very differently on paper than on screen, and can see needed changes so much better.

I obviously need to be in a different environment than my office with my home distractions to be able to concentrate on my manuscript edits.

The other five women I sat in quiet with for the past two days expressed the same thing. Here’s the funny part: I thought it was because of my kids, etc, but only half of us have children at home, and of varying ages. I am the only one with a toddler or a special-needs child, of course, I have one of each. Two are grandmothers who live with their retired spouses, who are both very good at busying themselves. And one is home while her husband still goes to the office.

We’re all at a stage of editing a large work we’re committed to. All of our projects are middle reader or young adult novels. Yesterday we planned that the rest of our usual twice a month meetings for the summer will be devoted to writing, no critique.

This way, when autumn comes around, we will all have work to critique. How’s that for commitment? I couldn’t do this without them. I am so grateful to my writing group and to the time we commit to working together.

[crossposted from musings in mayhem]

Robin: A Storyteller’s Tale

Two years ago, a fellow yogi and I e-mailed one another daily preparing for a retreat we were both attending. This correspondence continued over a 6-month time period. I saved all the e-mails thinking that I would compile them and put them in book form as a beautiful memory for both of us. This endeavor produced 63 double sided (8.5 x 11) pages. I realized with that exercise that writing a page a day is incredibly doable. So, why have I continued to make excuses for my non-existent writing life?

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, describes this type of behavior as ‘shadow artists.’ Pent-up creativity flows sideways into other venues such as e-mails, telephone conversations (read Facebook and Twitter!) in an effort to clue the defiant artist that he/she is not living the fullness of his/her life. Whether it hearkens back to being discouraged from exploring art as a child, feeling incompetent or simply viewing the task as a waste of time, the idea of creation for its own sake rather than a manifestation of outcomes takes much courage to walk into.

As I choose to move my own shadow artist into the light, dusting off years of denial, complacency, and just plain laziness, I pray that this decision awakens the thrill of living within the juicy words on the page, finally out of my head with the potential to garner community and conversation.

[Photo credit here.]

Cathy: The Universe works in mysterious ways

I will kvetch no more — this week anyway — as after my last two days of considering every option and feeling like I had none left, suddenly:

a friend offered to barter my tutoring her 13-year-old daughter for watching my 2-year-old daughter on writers’ group days.  So I don’t need to find and pay for immediate daycare just so I can have a few hours of writing and critique time a couple of times a month.


drumroll, please…..

Honey’s cousin needs some of Honey’s professional expertise on a public speaking gig in Colorado in a couple of weeks. And he offered to let me tag along, too. I will go to his public speaking gig, but largely, I am going to blissfully sit in my hotel room, without any interruptions and edit the bejeez out of my manuscript on Honey’s laptop!!!

and Grandma offered to watch the kids for that weekend.

I hope I didn’t die, because this sure feels like heaven.

[slightly edited crosspost from musings in mayhem]

Miranda: Yeah, I’m writing, but OUCH

26421546_0cccf04d2eWhat lengths will you go to in order to protect your creative time?

I’ve come to depend on my Saturday morning “me time.” My husband and I split the weekend mornings; he gets Sunday. This means I can either sleep in on Saturdays or get up early and start writing — or a combination of the two. But I have from whenever I get up until 10:00 or even 11:00 (if I push it) all to myself, assuming that I don’t have to leave the house to go do something. Like pick kids up from sleepovers.

Sleepovers. A few weeks ago I came to realize that my Saturday morning time was increasingly being sacrificed to pickups for one of my older kids after a Friday night sleepover. Sleepover pickup time seems to be 10:00 by default. This means I need to leave the house by 9:45 in most instances — so I have to start showering/getting dressed by 9:15. If my husband and I were up late the night before and I want to sleep in a little, maybe I get out of bed at 8:00. So, up at 8:00, make coffee….by the time I’m happily ensconced back in bed with my coffee and laptop, I might have an hour left before having to stop. Now, an hour is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s a whole lot less than nearly THREE hours. And without question, once I’m up and have joined the family, that’s it. There’s no going back to my morning hidey-hole. What’s a mama to do?

I started telling my older kids that they had to nail-down pickup time BEFORE dropoff. Either they needed to know that I could pick them up at 11:00 or later, or they had to arrange for a ride home. If neither option was feasible, and the sleepover couldn’t be moved to our house, then no sleepover. I figured that this was only one of the two weekend nights anyway, so it couldn’t be too problematic.

My new edict took hold. Things were going well. I started remembering to remind the kids about pickup plans before I agreed to take them anywhere on Friday nights. More time to self = happier me.

Then, this weekend, my mother came down to babysit while my husband and I went to the David Gray concert in Boston. As we were leaving — late — my daughter asked if she could sleepover at a friend’s house. She needed a dropoff, however, and it was out of our way. No go. But then Grandma volunteered to take her, with the two little ones in tow. Fine. Daughter was happy and packed her stuff in a rush. Just as we were all heading out the door at the same time, I remembered: “What about tomorrow? Are you going to need a ride before 11:00?” Oh. Daughter wasn’t sure. She made a few calls. No, she had to be picked up by 10:00 because the host had a soccer game, and the other girl who was also sleeping over was unable to give my daughter a ride.

I thought about my morning, and how I was so looking forward to getting back to my manuscript. I thought about what I’d just said to Cathy about how your family won’t take your creative commitment seriously unless YOU take it seriously. I want to finish this book, and I need to treat my work LIKE MY WORK.

I told my daughter I couldn’t pick her up at 10:00.

She was sweet, and didn’t give me a guilt trip. “It’s OK,” she said. “I’m going to have a busy weekend NEXT weekend.”

I felt like crap. Really, was it such a big deal to cut my morning a little short? I couldn’t do it. “It’s fine, I’ll just get you in the morning,” I said (a little reluctantly). “No, Momma,” she said. “It’s fine.” She headed back to her room, and I let it go. We left, while I fell into maternal self-flagellation. Isn’t it a mother’s JOB to drive her kids all over the place? Was it really fair to deprive my daughter of a fun night with her friends, just because I selfishly wanted MORE time to myself?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I don’t know if I want to know. But my daughter didn’t go, and I used my morning time effectively. I kind of owed it to my daughter to do that, didn’t I?

What would YOU have done?

Some of our readers are contemplating (or have already committed to) NaNoWriMo. What are you going to do to protect the amount of time required for churning out 1,600 words a day? Sure, most people here (even non-writers!) could churn out 1,600 words in a single day. But EVERY day, for THIRTY days?

Despite the sheer terror mild panic, I’m thinking of running “bandit” on the NaNoWriMo road race. I can’t commit officially, because I want to work on my current fiction project and NoNoWriMo rules specify that all projects MUST be from scratch. I’m also more than a little intimidated by the 1,600 daily benchmark. Even just committing to 500 words a day might be a struggle for me. Once I get going, I’m fine, but finding the sit-in-your-seat-and-get-started window, every day, is pas evident.

Stepping up your game, and making sure that YOU are clear on your commitment and that you then communicate that commitment to your family, are essential steps. What else can we do to create — and protect — our time?

[Photo courtesy Shawn Allen under a Creative Commons license.]


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