Category Archives: Writing

KEEP GOING 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times & Bad, a review

I have mentioned before that I struggle at times to keep up a daily writing practice.   I was starting to slip off again after a fairly successful month of regular writing.  I found myself crankily (it’s a word now!) wondering if it really mattered as I turned on the car radio during my lunch break.  The next words I heard were, “KEEP GOING.”

Austin Kleon, author of the book KEEP GOING, 10 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD, was being interviewed by Kai Wright on WNYC.  I was so grateful for this coincidental encouragement that I bought his book the next day.  It’s a short book.  The 201 pages alternate between graphics and double-spaced text.  It’s more like 100 pages of written content.  Overall, I enjoyed this breezy presentation but I would have preferred a little more writing and a little less space.

The first five chapters were on on-topic. Kleon offers practical, executable advice to creatives on how to keep going. Every Day is Groundhog’s Day reminds us that the key to being a prolific artist is a daily practice. It’s “a repeatable way of working that insulates them from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world. They all have identified what they want to spend their time on and they get up and work at it every day, no matter what.”

Chapter Two, Build a Bliss Station, is about creating time and space for your work. Forget The Noun, Do The Verb reminds us to focus on the work rather than what we are trying to be. Chapter Four, Make Gifts, is a call to shift our attention from worrying about money and metrics and to remember our love for the craft. Kleon demonstrates in The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraoridinary that we need to slow down and pay attention or risk missing the inspiration that is all around us waiting to be discovered.

I loved the first five chapters.  Kleon was thoughtful in the way he expressed these concepts.  He included relevant anecdotes and quotations from other writers and artists who have inspired him.  Unfortunately, he went off the rails in the second half of the book.  Most of the remaining chapters were filled with his opinions about the role of art in the world rather than the how-tos that comprised the first half of the book.

Kleon’s thoughts might be interesting but I didn’t buy the book for out-of-left field pondering like this bit from Chapter Six, Slay the Art Monsters:

“If making your art is adding net misery to the world, walk away and do something else.  Find something else to do with your time, something that makes you and the people around you feel more alive.  The world doesn’t need more great artists. It needs more more decent human beings.”

The last four chapters were full of similar propaganda except for When in Doubt, Tidy Up.  That whole chapter had nothing to do with tidying up; it was just filler about sifting through the crap in your office because you might find something inspiring. The chapter title was nothing more than a blatant attempt to steal a little of Marie Kondo’s popularity. Kleon even references her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and why he doesn’t think it is useful to artists.

All in all, I would say KEEP GOING is worth picking up.  I would just retitle it to KEEP GOING Five Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad (+ Some Other Art-related Thoughts from the Author.)

Need More Time? Make Decisions Less Often

I mentioned in my recent blog post, Wake Up, Write (Right), that my goal was to write first thing in the morning. I have been doing a fair job of forming that habit. However, in order to enhance my chance of success- I need to make a few more changes.

Morning is a very busy time that requires me to make a lot of decisions: What to eat for breakfast; what to wear; what do I need to accomplish today; what to bring for lunch and so on.  It can be challenging to focus on writing when there is a whole day to prepare for as well.  How can I get the peaceful, productive writing time that I need every day?

I believe the answer may be to make as many of those other decisions in advance, as possible.  If I prepare all my lunches for the week on the weekend before, then I can just grab and go each day.  I can do the same thing with my clothes.  If I plan and assemble all five five outfits needed in advance, including jewelry and accessories, I’m saved from making all the tiny choices involved in getting dressed each day.

Paring down decisions, thereby saving time and energy, has been practiced by many successful people including Albert Einstein and former President Obama.  They both simplified their daily decisions by each buying several of the same suits.  So, all they had to do was put them on; no thought required.  The late Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, was also famous for his daily uniform compromised of jeans, a black turtleneck and sneakers.  These gentlemen were aware that humans have a limited capacity to make good decisions over time.  So, they eliminated having to make certain choices like what to wear. Thus they were able to fend off decision fatigue longer.

Decision fatigue, quite simply, is one’s diminishing power to keep making good decisions, the more decisions you have to make.  Have you ever watched the TV show Say Yes to the Dress? There was an episode where a man surprised his girlfriend with a proposal and then dropped her off at Kleinfeld’s Bridal right after to buy her wedding dress.  The woman was so overwhelmed with the enormity of having decided to get engaged, there was no way she was going to pick out a wedding dress the same day.  She probably had trouble picking what to have for dinner that night. Forget fatigue, she was decision exhausted!

My hope is that by prepping my week properly in advance and eliminating as many of the daily decisions as possible, I can wake up and write with abandon every single day.  We shall see…

Reality TV Shows Should Have Warning Labels

I have a confession to make.  I’m not proud of this- but maybe if I admit it here-the spell will be broken.  I watch several of the Real Housewives programs on Bravo. Not all of them- I have my limits.  I watch the Beverly Hills, Orange County and New Jersey addict- er rather, editions.

The most disturbing part is I don’t know why I find myself tuning into watch these faux reality programs. They are fake even though they feature real people in their actual homes. Beyond that to suggest many of the storylines on these shows actually happened would be ridiculous. Every week, it’s the same parade of fashionable, privileged women getting drunk, being catty and stabbing each other in the back.

Puppygate is the current “scandal” that is being exhausted on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  Allegedly, one character adopted a puppy from the rescue business of another character and Lucy Apple Juicy (great name!) ended up at a shelter.  I do not believe this happened at all.  Yet, I have watched them drag this tired storyline though all four episodes of the season so far.  It’s a seemingly endless contest of who betrayed who and who is using the situation to get back at a rival for past indiscretions. You would think I’d have something better to do with my time!

So, why do I keep tuning in? (Sigh) I’m not a psychologist but I do have a theory.  I suspect that I get a bit of kick out out of watching rich people, who seem to have every advantage imaginable, act like morons.  It doesn’t reflect well on me that I would enjoy something like that but I don’t think I am alone.  There is something reassuring about it.  You can say to yourself, “hey, just one of her kitchen cabinets is worth more than my car but at least I never sprained my ankle while drunkenly jumping into a hot tub naked!”  (Money really can’t buy you class!)

The Germans call it Schadenfreude. It’s the pleasure derived by one person from witnessing another’s misfortune.  I don’t know if Andy Cohen, the producer of these franchises realized he was tapping into this complex human emotion when he came up with the Real Housewives but he has definitely profited from it.  It sounds awful, doesn’t it? Deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune?

Before you judge me, let’s go back to the fact I don’t think that most of the storylines are real. In fact, when some actual reality has crept into these shows like the passing of one character’s beloved mother or the ongoing battle with heart disease that another character’s husband has been enduring, I have been genuinely moved.  I think it’s actually these unscripted situations that really keep these shows on the air. Without these poignant moments, you would be inclined to forget that you are watching real human beings at all.

Perhaps now that I have confessed my sins, I won’t be compelled to watch anymore… or maybe just one more episode…or I’ll just finish out the current season and then never watch again…

Wake up Write (Right)

“Write everyday at the same time,” is the advice you hear given to writers over and over again.  I have always felt guilty that I have not established an effective daily writing routine.

I have tried writing at all different times: morning, evening and even my lunch hour but nothing stuck for long. My lifelong dance with insomnia made it difficult to write at the same time every morning. My lunch hour was inconsistent as well.  I could probably write at the same time every night but I am too drained at the end of the day most of the time.

To some people, I know this sounds like I am just making excuses but I am sure there are other writers that struggle with the same dilemma. The goal is not to construct the perfect prose every time you write  but you do want to give the best you have to it each day.

I was watching Joanna Penn’s interview with Sarah Painter yesterday. Penn posed the proverbial question about when and how often to write.  A few things stood out for me in Painter’s response. Painter said that she established writing as a daily habit by making it automatic.  She decided to do it first thing when she woke up.  She keeps the computer on the bedside table and grabs it right after opening her eyes.  Her lovely husband brings her a cup tea every morning. (I’ll have one of those, please!) So, she is all set to go. She doesn’t even get out of bed. There is no choice about whether to write.  In fact, the only choice would be- to not write.

The idea of making writing automatic was fascinating but then I thought,  “what about when insomnia keeps me up for half the night?” Painter’s very next words, as if on cue, were, “the reason I like writing first thing in the morning so much is because I am less awake, I’ve got less resistance.” She also pointed out that since the day hasn’t really started yet, there are no distractions.

I read Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, so I was familiar with this process of using a cue (in this case: waking up) to change a habit but hadn’t considered it as a way to establish a writing routine per se. Often people use it to stop doing something like smoking or to remember doing something like flossing after you brush your teeth. I was curious to see if Painter’s routine might work for me.

All day long yesterday, I kept thinking to myself, “wake up, write. Wake up, write.” (I was delighted when the play on words hit me: “wake up, write. Wake up right!” How perfect a mantra is that for establishing a new habit?) I was excited to test it this morning.  As is often the case, I did not sleep well. I was awoken by the phone ringing. So this morning the routine was more like “wake up-talk to Mom-write” but I did it. In fact, you are reading the results right now. I feel comfortable calling day one-albeit not perfect-a success.

My plan is to stick with Painter’s writing routine and “Wake up-write. Wake up right” every day!

Tasha Tudor

The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a review

Recently, I borrowed a book from the library that was published in 1992.  1992 probably seems like a lifetime ago to many of us.  The internet was a nascent network available only to Vax nerds.  Cell phones were only in the hands of a privileged few.  Life was a little slower, quieter and simpler 27 years ago.

1992 was a lot quieter, simpler and slower for renowned illustrator Tasha Tudor who chose to live on a quiet rural Vermont estate with a menagerie of domestic and exotic animals.  Her 1830s lifestyle is beautifully captured in The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a coffee table book by Tasha Tudor and photographer Richard Brown.

The photographs alone are reason enough to pick up this book. It is filled with pictures of Tasha Tudor in her environment. Divided into the four seasons, you will see lush photos of Tudor’s gardens, as well as the inside of her home with her oil lamps, old-fashioned wood cooking stove, homespun linens and beautiful handcrafted items. There are also photos of Tudor with her grandchildren wearing the early 19th Century clothes that Tudor preferred.

“I’m very fond of men. I think they’re wonderful creatures. But I don’t want to look like one. When women gave up long skirts, they made a grave error.  Things half seen are so much more mysterious and delightful.”

Tudor’s humor, wit and frankness fill the pages opposite the photos.  She was someone who knew what she wanted from the time she was a little girl. She was convinced she had lived before in the 1830s and felt more comfortable in that way of life. So, she masterfully recreated a 19th century lifestyle while enjoying a very successful career as the award-winning illustrator of almost 100 books.  One quote that really resonated with me was:

“When I’m working in th barn or house I often think of all the errors I’ve made in my life. But I quickly put that behind me and think of water lilies. They will always eradicate unpleasant thoughts. Or goslings are equally comforting in their own way.”

Great advice! When I realize I am dwelling too much in the negative past, I also try to think of something that makes me happy like my dogs or a beautiful garden.

The book is filled these sorts of self-reflections and other helpful observations. Above all, it gorgeously displays a life that is deeply connected to the natural world, as well as, being in tune with the seasons of nature rather than being ruled by the artificial, digital timing of Today’s world.

I would highly recommend The Private World of Tasha Tudor if you would like to experience the serenity of the 1830s through beautiful photographs and the brilliant musings of a satisfied woman who brought to life the world of her dreams.

How to Find the Flow

I mentioned last week that even though I need to write that I tend to resist doing it. Often, my biggest excuse is that I am too tired.  Sometimes, the little battles of life wear me down.  More often than I care to admit, I am too pooped to do anything but watch TV at the end of a long, hard day.

Watching TV might be a comforting distraction but it doesn’t do anything to improve my life and it’s not going to provide me with the satisfaction that I get from being creative.  Also, I know that if I do write that chances are, I will feel better.

Today, I asked myself, “how can I get into the flow?” This is what I came up with:

1. Remind myself that my intention is to write.

2. Pray for help to get into the flow of writing.

3. Sit down and write.

I tried this new ritual out today.  Then I finished a chapter and started the next in a novel that I began writing many months ago.  Today is Saturday.  The real test will be mid-week but  I would call that a good start!

What do you do to get in the flow?

Stephen King Never Liked Carrie

I am reading Stephen King’s book titled, On Writing.  I was surprised to learn that he didn’t like Carrie, the character that is- it’s clear he was ecstatic over the money he earned from that blockbuster. He writes, “I didn’t much like the lead character.  Carrie White seemed thick and passive, a ready-made victim.”

He goes on to mention that Carrie is based on two real girls from his high school. He reports with no emotion that both these girls were dead by the time he began writing Carrie in his early to mid-twenties. One passed during an epileptic seizure. The other took her own life shortly after the birth of her second child. He ends the chapter with:

“I never liked Carrie, that female version of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold but through Sondra and Dodie I came at last to understand her a little. I pitied her and I pitied her classmates as well, because I had been one of them once upon a time.”

I find this interesting for two reasons: 1. It appears the young Stephen King was a bit of a bully himself. 2. Carrie, the story, shows maybe he didn’t quite to terms with his own participation in tormenting the two girls from his past. So, he ended his story by turning this tortured girl into a mass murderer.

It seemed to me that if there were ever a case where a temporary insanity plea would have stuck-Carrie White’s telekinetic killing spree after the prom would have been it.  She wasn’t like Harris and Klebold because she didn’t plan to hurt anyone. That poor girl was tormented at home by her religious fanatic mother and then subjected to her classmates’ cruelty at school. She had no safe place.  Just when it seemed her luck was changing and she was actually having a good time at the prom with the most popular boy in school -who in the book was a writer- go figure, she gets covered in a vat-full of pig’s blood.  It would take a very strong person to not go over the edge after that.

To be completely honest, my tendency to cut this anti-heroine a break might be because I was no stranger to bullying in Junior High.  Seventh Grade was a very hard year for me.  I was always different than other kids.  I didn’t dress like anyone else.  Had I worn the requisite jeans-boots-sweatshirt uniform of the time and permed my hair, I might have looked like everyone else but I still wouldn’t have fit in.  I was more interested in the Middle Ages than Culture Club (Was it spelled Kulture Klub on the album?) Anyway… kids can always sniff out who is different. And for some reason, the tendency is to mock that person.

Thankfully, I wasn’t a “thick, ready-made victim.”  Although, I did plenty of feeling sorry for myself, I did fight back – as my friends, Sylvia and AnnMarie like to remind to this day.  When I couldn’t take any more abuse, I got into the habit of smacking my tormentors upside the head with my pocketbook.  Mr. C, my homeroom teacher, never said a word.  He seemed hip to what was going on and probably figured that these mean boys deserved it.

Oddly enough, the jocks were highly amused by my method of defense.  After a while, it seemed like it was less about making fun of me than it was about getting me to wallop them. It was like a bizarre badge of honor to be hit by my bag.  I got so used to this that I barely looked up from whatever I was reading. At the moment of abuse, I’d reach behind me, pull my long-strapped purse off the back of my chair, whack the offending party and then hang it back up again.

I wonder if either of those girls from Stephen King’s High School had smacked him with her purse, would Carrie still have been written? Hmmm…

How to Master Life

I am a life-long procrastinator. It’s something I am really trying to tackle in 2019. I had an epiphany about it this morning and realized I have been going about it all wrong.

I have been trying to overcome procrastination by becoming more efficient. I have been studying how to establish good habits. I have been watching endless videos on effective morning, evening and writing routines. I have been trying to establish these good habits and efficient routines, only to get derailed by life events and end up feeling like a failure.

Oddly enough, it was my new favorite hobby that led to this epiphany that changed everything. I started learning how to crochet last April and I LOVE it! It’s one of my favorite things to do. Although, I realized that when I crocheted for a long time, as much I enjoy it, there was still something amiss.  There was a little nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “you know, you haven’t written anything in a really long time!”

It was then that it occurred to me that there are things you need to do like eat, sleep and maintain good hygiene, things you love to do like crochet and then there are things you are meant to do- and for me- this is writing.  The things we are meant to do, often, seem to be what we resist the most to our own detriment.

The truth is when I don’t write anything at all, I don’t feel quite well.  Life is literally draining out of me. I realize that sounds dramatic but there is probably something in your life that produces the same effect.  I enjoy crocheting and it adds a lot to my existence but nothing makes me feel quite as alive and purposeful as having written.

So, why do I avoid it?  Why do I procrastinate? Steven Pressfield writes about resistance in the War of Art as if it is a real life bogeyman who quite literally wants to kill us. Whether this is actually the case or not, it’s really the only compelling explanation I have found to demystify the phenomenon of procrastination.

What are you meant to do? What have you been resisting?

NANOWRIMO…to do or not to do.

NANOWRIMO starts today.  Many aspiring novelists around the world will begin writing their books.  They have until the end of November to write 50,000 words in order to be considered a NANWRIMO contest winner.

Last year, 402,142 people participated in this annual online contest. They filled out a profile on nanowrimo.org and started writing.  Throughout the month, they had the opportunity to earn badges for hitting certain word counts. 34,214 participants completed first drafts of their novels. Relatively few of these novels ever get published but I am not sure that matters. I think it would be an accomplishment just to complete a novel regardless of how many people read it.

So, will I be participating this year? Although, I feel like I have a novel in me, I won’t be a NANOWRIMO-er this year. It’s simply because I know a novel is not a sprint for me.  It’s a marathon and I have not trained properly.  It’s been a challenging year and I have had a lot of distractions which have kept me  from writing.

I am inspired to start getting my writing chops back though.  So, NANOWRIMO may have already helped me with its mere existence.  I’ll be happy if I have completed a novel by the end of NEXT November!

Good luck to all the NANOWRIMO-ers who are getting started today.  May you exceed your daily words counts and complete your first drafts by November 30th!  You can do it!

Learning to Love Life Again

I mentioned in my last post that my luck has not been so good lately.  As the saying goes, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”  At least, that’s how it has felt.  So, when I saw a workshop titled, Love Your Life, I thought, “I should probably take that.”

Love Your Life is based on a book, The Passion Test, by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood.  The gist of both the workshop and book is to help you gain clarity on what you are passionate about.  This is achieved through an exercise where you identify 10 things that would make your life ideal.  With the help of a partner you narrow it down to five through a questioning exercise.  You then set goals or markers to achieve those five items.

While I found that part of the workshop interesting, identifying my passions has never really been my problem.  The second half of the workshop was about commitment and overcoming obstacles.  I found this very interesting because I often get distracted from goals because of life circumstances and-this is hard to admit- fear.

Our facilitator, Christina Loggia, had us write down our negative self-talk.  Then she had us “re-language” these sentences into something more positive. As a writer one of my fears is that no one cares about what I have to share.  I re-languaged that negative statement into “the right audience finds and appreciates my work.”  I felt my mood shift when I read this new statement.  Feeling better about it, somehow, made it seem more possible it could be true.  Affirmations are not new to me but I had never made one that was so goal-specific before.  It was like a little fear-seeking missile!

My other big takeaway from the workshop was about committing the time and energy to achieve what I am passionate about.  Christina shared with the group that one of her passions is yoga.  She said that everyone in her life knows when she practices and teaches yoga and that they know better than to ask her to do something during those times.  I have been very sloppy when it comes to setting boundaries around my passions.  I intend to change that going forward.

The last point I wanted to mention was that I realized nothing has to be achieved overnight.  I think I have been inclined not to set goals in the past because I didn’t think I would have the time or financial resources to achieve them.  Our society is so inclined toward instant gratification, it can be hard to work toward something if you don’t when exactly it will come to fruition.      Christina gave an example about trying to sell her house and how it was taking longer than hoped.  It doesn’t mean it will never sell.  It just hasn’t been the right time yet.  The important thing is to stay clear on what you want even when success seems elusive.