Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how!
Happy Monday, friends! What in the creative realm would you like to accomplish this week? Comment below with the what, when, and how!
One of the most popular pieces from our archives!
It’s a rare but beautiful thing: An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something.
If you’re like most people, you reflexively reach for your smartphone.
And then, before you know it, the unclaimed window has closed. The baby wakes up, the client calls, it’s time to head out — and those minutes are gone. Are you the better for how you spent them?
Don’t get me wrong: Downtime is important. Ten minutes of doing nothing has its value; social media and other internet temptations can, at times, serve as recreation. But more often than not, the interwebs become a crutch that we depend on because we’re in a short period of transition and we’ve conditioned our brains to need constant, fast-food stimulation. We don’t know what else to do — or we do know what to do, but we’re procrastinating because we’re over- or under-whelmed by whatever we really want to be working on. And just when we might benefit most from a screen-free breather, we’re particularly addicted to the glow.
Whether you’re using up minutes that aren’t otherwise spoken for or you’re avoiding a task you’d rather not do, use those 10 minutes to your advantage. Here are 10 “unplugged” ways to do just that.
What are your favorite ways to make the most of 10 minutes?
I’m an iPhone app junkie. But not all apps; productivity apps. I’ve tried so many different habit-supporting and time-management apps that I’m scared to think about how much cash all of those “little” purchases add up to. And I’ve deleted nearly as many, when they invariably fail to knock my socks off. But here’s an app that’s truly a keeper, especially for those of us who are bent on maintaining a daily creative practice: Goal Streaks. This app is a terrific motivator for all the new habits you’d like to develop — and is unusually flexible, allowing you to track virtually any frequency intention (not just daily). At right is a screen shot that shows the first three goals I’m tracking (I have ten in total at the moment — all in the creativity and well-being categories).
LifeHacker loves this app too. Here’s an excerpt from the LifeHacker review:
Goal Streaks helps you set and track repeat tasks so you can form habits and achieve long-term goals more easily. The idea is to chip away a little bit each day, but Goal Streaks is incredibly versatile and can handle just about any more complex schedule you care to throw at it.
Earlier this year I solved my procrastination problem with Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret, otherwise known as don’t break the chain. The “secret” is to put up a calendar and mark everyday with an X each time you complete a specific task (e.g. exercise, cook, clean, etc.). Since then many apps have surfaced to help people implement this method of getting things done on their smartphones. While pretty good, none of them were dynamic enough to allow you to create very specific rules. Perhaps you want to be able to do something four days a week and it doesn’t matter to you which days that task is accomplished, or you need to take vacation days from certain tasks (e.g. exercise and work). Goal Streaks allows you to create and schedule tasks with that level of specificity, making it capable of managing pretty much any situation. The only type of schedule it currently can’t handle, as far as I can tell, is something along the lines of doing something for four weeks and then taking a week off. That said, you can give it exception rules so you can skip certain days without penalty.
Goal Streaks is very easy to use and offers a feature tour to introduce you to all the things it can do. The app is responsive, nice to look at, allows you to set daily reminders, and just works better than the others. It may be late to the game, but it’s a better player than what we’ve seen so far.
The fact is, this app WORKS. When you get a couple of days of X’s in a row, you want to keep the chain going. And then you have three weeks of X’s in a row, you actually WANT to stay up past your bedtime to get your 500 words written because if you don’t, you’re back to zero.
Cost: $3.99. Requirements: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation), iPod touch (5th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 6.0 or later. This app is optimized for iPhone 5. Grab Goal Streaks here. Then get rolling with your creative resolutions and intentions for 2013.
If you don’t have an iPhone or an iPad, my condolences! 😉
Sometimes creative angst gets the better of us. How often do you find yourself thinking “I don’t have enough time,” or “My work’s not good enough,” or “I’ll never reach my creative goals”? Here are four simple ways to avoid those minefields and stay focused on what really matters: your creative work.
1. Turn rejection into affirmation. With practice, you can reframe rejection so that it actually affirms your creativity, rather than causes injury. Here’s how. Simply put, you can’t get rejected if you haven’t had the courage to send your work out into the world. And you can’t send your work out into the world if you haven’t reached a level of completion and polish that makes you believe your work has legs. And your work can’t have legs if you haven’t put yourself at your desk or easel or studio bench and actually done the work, for however many hours it took. So at its most basic level, each rejection is evidence that you have done your work and sent it out into the world. This is something to celebrate. Rejections simply mean: Yes! I’m doing my work. I was brave enough to send it out into the world, and this “rejection” is simply an affirmation that I am a working artist. I celebrate that fact, and now I turn back to my work in progress.
If this sounds like a tall order, just try it. Over time, you’ll be amazed by how easy it becomes — to the point that you accept rejection as simply part of the process.
2. Move the goalpost into your sphere of influence. Shift your focus away from things you can’t control and onto the things you can. You might decide that you’re going to get your novel published next year. But instead of putting your focus entirely on something that you can’t ultimately control, move the goalposts into a domain that is solidly within your circle of influence. For example: Instead of deciding that you will get your novel accepted for publication next year (which may or may not happen, regardless of your best work, killer query letter, and an introduction to your cousin’s agent), decide that your goal will be to query 50 agents and 30 publishers from the pool of publishers who accept unagented manuscripts. You might start with those who accept simultaneous submissions so that it doesn’t take five years to hit your quota. Keep careful track of your submissions — via your own spreadsheet system or an online submission tracking tool — and when you hit your quotas, celebrate. The only two things you can really control are:
a) Creating your best work.
b) Playing the numbers game to get your work in front of as many sets of eyes as it takes.
If you feel discouraged by this process, go back and read #1 above.
3. Establish a regular creative practice. If you’re not already doing your creative work every day, or nearly every day, now’s the time to start. Think it’s impossible to find at least 30 minutes for your creative work on a regular basis? If that’s true—unless you’ve just had a baby or are dealing with a major illness or life event—consider keeping a time log for a few days in order to see where your time is really going. It’s more than likely that there’s something you can pare down on (TV, Facebook, sleep) in order to fit in a regular practice window. If your schedule is so hairy that you can’t commit to a set time every day (which would be ideal, as schedule creates habit and habit breeds productivity) at least commit to a set amount of time every day. When “life happens” and you have to skip practice, don’t beat yourself up about it—just show up tomorrow.
Working regularly may be the most beneficial thing you can do for your creative bandwidth. When you work every day, you learn to show up for creative practice even when you don’t feel like it—even when the muse is off in Bermuda, the house is a mess, the bills need to be paid, and your best friend wants to take you out to lunch. Just show up at your appointed time and do the work. Creative practice is a sacred commitment for those who make meaning through art. If something brilliant comes out along the way, so much the better. But brilliance isn’t the point; showing up is the point. Making meaning through your creative practice is the point. A regular creative practice helps you stay focused on process, rather than outcome.
4. Get comfy with crotchety Aunt Zelda. Our anxiety about creative fear is often more paralyzing than the fear itself. If you can accept that fear and self-doubt are inevitable parts of the process—and are things that even wildly successful writers, artists, and performers grapple with—you will diminish the negative power of insecurity. Try to develop a mantra to use when doubts arise. “Oh, it’s you again, Aunt Zelda. I see you’ve come back for another visit. Sit down and have a cup of tea over here while I carry on with my creative practice.” By acknowledging the fearsome inner critic of Aunt Zelda, and not resisting her arrival, you are free to move ahead. You might even be able to summon up a bit of empathy for Aunt Zelda, who has nothing better to do than drive all over town in her ancient Oldsmobile, just looking for the next person she can inject with fear, doubt, and perhaps even a wholesale existential crisis. Just say, “Thanks, but no,” to Aunt Zelda and stay focused on your creative process. Remember: Just because Aunt Zelda shows up doesn’t mean you have to get into her aging Oldsmobile and go for a ride.
The piece above originally appeared as a guest post at the fabulous Bliss Habits.
…you can frustrate me:
1. my new printer won’t communicate with my computer, so I can’t print out the edits I did at writing group to read and redline a bit more by pages in hand.
2. you come to me in fits and starts while occupying half my concentration all the time.
…you make me do cartwheels, figuratively speaking, of course:
1. I love a new idea, it makes my heart race and my arms want to write or type in that very moment to the exclusion of all else. I get that tingly feeling like a teen falling in love.
2. I love rewriting, reworking, getting it right.
3. (Please let there be a 3 so the positive side can win today.) That netherworld feeling of one foot here, in the house with the kids and the laundry, and one foot there, in my imagination with my character and his family and friends and dog. This week has been hovering around 100 degrees outside and in my manuscript, it’s Thanksgiving in New England — bare trees, the beginnings of snow, nose reddening winds.
Ah, thank you writing, for the cool, cool breeze!
[Crossposted from musings in mayhem]
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]
Last week I mentioned my new story idea that came up in the midst of my big edits I need to do on the first book.
Yesterday I had one of those rare creative spells in which, no matter the interruptions, I wrote steadily over the course of about 6 hours on the new idea.
I’m really enjoying it. That spark was what was missing in the edit draft two stage of the manuscript. I mean, I enjoy making the improvements, but it’s a slow road.
But having something else to be excited about is just plain fun.
So I will continue to edit when I have good uninterrupted chunks of time, as in when my writing group meets. But in the meantime, I’m going to have fun over here on this little idea in all the little moments I have between the usual family business.
Making stuff up is so much easier than fixing what I already have. And it’s fun. I feel like a kid with a kite. It’s time to fly.
After my prior whiney blog share, I felt compelled to crosspost from musings in mayhem something more positive on writing that happened shortly after.
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.
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]
crossposting from musings in mayhem
Why is it even when I have several projects I could be working on, narrowed to two that I am working on (read procrastinating) that I generally have at least part of my writer’s eye on The Next Big Thing?
This is also true in the home improvement arena, you should see what I’ve come up with for the addition now that we are paying a mortgage and have a yard of our own rather than renting a condo.
I mean I could also be focusing on getting those wonderfully folded piles from last week into dressers before starting this week’s loads. But I’m already a day late anyway, and have no earthly idea how it is that I wash the same five outfits per family member twice a week and there are still piles of folded and sorted laundry sitting from two weeks ago.
I’m planning next spring’s gardens while the plots are currently filled and continuing to fill with weeds. I really need to buy more sand to add to my clay soil which needs to be turned and covered, with compost, too, before I start plotting next year.
I am also dreaming baby names, when I know, logistics and physicality have set in stone that C is the last of my progeny. I am thinking of new baby names instead of being present with the three kids I have now.
I can use the baby names for characters, but that is the only technical resolve I have for this dilemma I have that the next thing is better than the present. It’s sparklier, it’s as tempting as a dessert sitting on the counter while I’m preparing dinner.
Something about the new, the imagined, the dreamed is much easier because I can keep my hands clean thinking about it while the dirty work of the present is a constant.
Maybe I just have trouble with finishing, with letting go, with saying finally, for the last time, that this version of the poem, the children’s novel, the article is good enough just the way it is.
I’m sure there is a psychological disorder with a big fancy name for this. It has conveniently slipped my mind.
Crosspost from musings in mayhem.
The question of balancing motherhood and creativity arises constantly. The other day, I read a very interesting wake-up call over on and her head popped off. I loved the photograph of the mom going ahead with painting whilst her toddler hung upside down, squiggling on her lap. The mom in the photo is continuing her creative work regardless of being a mom as is the photographer and author. The essence of what Terri wrote was just shut up and do it. If you really want it, you’ll make it happen.
I think that’s why a lot of us mother-writers blog. It’s a piece of writing, that while it may not necessarily change the world or be the next Great American Novel, keeps us going. We can do it in the snatches of time during naps, or a bit of quiet while school aged kids are out of the house, in between loads of laundry and sinkfuls of dishes. We can focus for a few minutes, while our Big Project waits sometimes patiently, sometimes not so patiently for a chance to be the focus. We can do it while a wiggling toddler cuddles in for a snuggle while our fingers click away on a keyboard, like at this very moment that I write.
My old photography self of eons past has been relegated to largely okay pics of the kids and whatever catches my eye, with a little automatic easy camera rather than one I could make adjustments on, given the time and the perogative. The old dancer self still throws down in the kitchen periodically, albeit stiffly and ungainly. The old performer self regales at the dinner table in silly voices and fake opera, when I can get a word in edgewise among the constant stream of noise from all three kids. The old drawing self, will doodle now and then, and more often pretend large invisible canvases in sweeping gestures with my arms while I sit vegging out in front of the tv of an evening, too exhausted to do anything more. Honey must wonder what I’m doing over there, but is too polite or exhausted himself. Other times, I am making chi pottery, sitting with my hands balled around or manipulating invisible clay.
And I blog. I post something every weekday since I started this with the exception of when I took a summer excursion.
I know I have a manuscript that really wants to be finished and shopped. Believe me, if I could focus on that right now, I would. But when it comes to the big writing, I need more mental energy than I currently have. I also have three horizontal file drawers of poems and short stories that could use editing, compiling, submitting, as well as how many on the hard drive that need the same, and the three journals in my bedside drawer, dog-eared where good ideas are languishing. And then there’s that screenplay idea from about eight years ago that still won’t die, and I’ve lost the outline for ages ago.
But, for right now, This is what I can write, while I chase C away from the dog food again when things have gotten a bit too quiet. I’m doing a pretty fair job of it. And yes, I just wrote another very self-referential blog about blogging. But I’m doing it. I am writing.
I’m thinking again. Thinking of writing, thinking of editing, but waiting for editorial input from a few select friends in order to edit my manuscript. Of editing the poem I wrote the other day or not, or of writing the story I started or the one with the fully cast set of characters from about a week ago. Or of finding that script outline from oh, 4 yrs ago, that I still would like to develop. And three derivative character books from my manuscript that I could easily start, not exactly a series, but related books on existing characters.
I’m thinking I’m happy that Honey and I finally rearranged S’s bedroom on Saturday. I’m thinking how long will it stay this clean after he gets home from his dad’s. And of threatening to take anything left on the floor or shoved behind furniture away for eternity, but that’s a lot of money in legos and drawing supplies and dinos and godzillas that I’d rather he use.
I’m thinking I wish I had a laptop and a couple of hours a day in a café or elsewhere so I won’t be on toddler duty, or in the vicinity of laundry, dishes et al, so I can focus on writing and get to the deeper level, find the groove, without distractions in housework or parenting.
I’m thinking what an absolutely gorgeous day at the beach on Sunday. The water was perfect, the beach was packed, Honey and I relaxed, Baby C grew a little more accustomed to the sand and the water, and even pointed from the shovelful of sand I held to show her, and pointed to a speck on my arm and said ‘sahn..’ She watched a kite circle and dip and bounce. She pointed to gulls, to clouds to people to sandcastles, to the ocean for me to say what they were again and again. She pointed and giggled at the flock of squawking laughing gulls dipping and circling and diving at an unattended set-up, where they were stealing snacks, because the family all went to the water together, leaving their belongings to the snarky thieves. That is a lesson learned in my well-beached youth. She flirted with the young guys behind us who laughed and called her adorable, after gossiping about friends and others apparently at their college. I thought and said to Honey, I am so glad I am not that age anymore, when what people wear, their hair, their ‘tudes, their likes and dislikes matter so disproportionately to the entirety of world affairs.
And then the breeze became darkened sky, became drops. I watched the cloud direction and we packed up, headed to the van in the municipal lot, to discover alarm drained dead battery, and then the sky opened up, and Honey and I yelled at each other, til he stood at the edge of the lot to watch for Triple A, who arrived with handheld battery pack in an unmarked Nissan, calling me on my cellphone on the approach. I think, why do we yell at each other so readily, when all else fails.
I’m thinking of getting on the road and sitting in standstill traffic on the bridge. Of the ancient bent man wiping his new truck with a greasy cloth and getting out, hobbling slowly, fly half unzipped, toward his trailered fishing boat. He stopped and spoke to us on his way, offered us a pepsi or a mountain dew with multiple extra syllables in his deeply southern accent, as only the true locals in this highly transitory area speak, and of his spit of tabacca chaw in the midst of the conversation. I’m thinking of the four car slightly more than fender bender and emergency vehicles that held us up and of how C slept so well after the beach through the whole thing.
I’m thinking I have a moment right now in which I could be writing something mentioned above, but that right now, this is what I need to be writing, because I’m thinking of so many different things, including that the boys will be home in a few weeks, and of all the plans I am making for the week we will pick them up, we will spend trying to visit loved ones we miss, see my family, check up on my mom’s progress since the stroke, and of nephews and niece, growing so much – she’s twenty and the youngest nephew is three, and how much of life has passed in the time since I moved away, and since my brothers and I were growing up, and I need to write all of this down somehow, use it, love it, and turn it into something more than the ramblings of my life.