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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.)

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!

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?

Have Extra Time? Do Something Meaningful.

I woke up at 4 AM. For me, this was a good thing. As an often insomniac, I frequently wake up between 2:00 AM and 2:45 AM and then spend three hours trying to go back to sleep, only to doze off for 15 minutes or so before I need to get up.

So, waking up at 4 AM and getting the better part of seven hours of sleep was like winning a little lottery this morning. Having some quiet time to myself while the rest of the world is still sleeping felt like quite a treat.  How best to savor it?

I wrote for over an hour.  I have a new book idea and I wanted to start getting it down.  So, it was the perfect time to do it. Will it be a best-seller or get published for that matter… I don’t know.  I do know that it was time better spent than on watching TV or clicking around social media.  How you start the day is important.  It can set the tone for the rest of the day.  So, it’s the best time to do what matters the most to you.

 

 

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!

Naturally Confident: 31 Blog Posts in 31 Days MISSION COMPLETED!

I took a training class about six months after I fell. We were asked to draw a picture of what we wanted our lives to look like within a certain time frame. I was completely flummoxed. I really didn’t know what to draw. I did the best I could. When the time was up, I looked around the room at other people’s drawings. They were crowded with people, new houses, where they wanted to travel to and major life events.

When I looked back at my own, I saw myself sitting alone on a yoga mat with my eyes closed in meditation. The only other thing on my drawing was a smile with dollar signs around it.  Dental reconstruction has been foremost in my mind.  If I had more time I probably would have drawn my dog Chauncy sitting next to me. Clearly, after falling down the stairs and the hurricane, I had gotten out of the practice of setting goals.

Going through major life events can give you valuable insights. I mentioned before that while I was driving in the hurricane that I had a feeling of peace, knowing that as long as Chauncy and I could safely get to our destination; I was okay with losing what was back at my apartment. There is a flip side to that though, there is an almost constant awareness that anything and everything can be taken from you at any second. That chilling realization will spur some people into immediate, hard-core, relentless action and make other people VERY cautious. I fall into the second camp. (I always hold the handrail now!)

“Self-confidence grows every time you keep a promise to yourself.”

– Asha Dornfest

I think this challenge of writing and putting up a new blog post every day for the month of August has been really good for me. I set a goal for myself and followed through on it. While I didn’t cure cancer or do anything similarly monumental, I did do something that wasn’t exactly easy either. Posting every day with my job and commuting schedule, challenged me. Sometimes, other things like my yoga practice were sacrificed in order to keep this promise to myself.

I learned that I could rise to the challenge and meet it. I also learned that I do need to write every day. I learned that I do not want to post what I write EVERY day. I want more time for editing, proofreading and polishing my work. I also want to do other types of writing. I learned that it doesn’t matter what response I get, it’s about committing to the work, trusting that what comes out is enough and then following through.

My new plan (Ooo, look who has a plan!) is to post weekly. I may post more often than that but I feel comfortable that I can keep to that schedule and maintain a satisfactory degree of quality in my writing.

I want to thank all of you who have been reading my posts during this August Adventure Post-a-day Blogging Challenge. I have received some really wonderful support throughout this process and I am very grateful!

Many blessings,

Cynthia

 

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justdragonfly

 

Naturally Motivated: Keeping the Faith

Did you see Julie and Julia? The movie about a blogger who records her experiences while cooking her way through Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking in one year? There is a scene where Julie has been writing for quite a while and is, momentarily, elated to see she has finally gotten her first comment; only to open it and read something like:

“Julie, this is your mother. It appears I am the only one who is reading your thing. Why are you doing this?”

Luckily, she didn’t get discouraged. She kept true to her vision, kept cooking and kept writing about it. Eventually, Julie’s audience found her. She completed her project on time and wrote a book about it. That book was adapted into the movie. Voila! The rest is history.

Sometimes, it seems like we are doing everything we can to make a difference in the world but no one is freakin’ listening. Worse yet, maybe the people who are listening are critical of us and tell us that we are wasting our time. If you have an idea for something that you believe can help make people’s lives better, brighter or happier in any way, I’d like to encourage YOU to keep going, regardless of what seems to be happening at this moment. Stay true to your vision and just keep doing the work!

It is very easy to constantly look to other people to see if we are on the right track. I suspect it’s because approval from other people helped us out early in life; when we were learning to do things we had never done before like walk and talk. We would have learned those things anyway from modeling other people but it’s certainly a lot more fun when someone is cheering you on at every step! Most of us find that our cheering committee seems to dwindle a bit, as we get older. ‘Attaboys and ‘attagirls are often replaced with comments about fears, worries or warnings to do things a certain way in order to be safe or respectable. While these comments are probably well meant, they certainly aren’t exactly motivating to the creative individual.

After letting this blog molder for several months, I really didn’t know what to expect in terms of readership. I’ve noticed something interesting. A lot more people read it than comment on it. When I first launched, I didn’t get stat reports on click-throughs from social media. The only way I knew if people were reading was when they were kind enough to leave me a comment or send me an email. Even though I know now that more people are reading than I had evidence for before; I don’t know what they think about it because they don’t directly engage with me.

Then the other day, I was blessed with an eye-opening email from Jodi:

Hi, loved your last post on veggie scraps. I commented away on that already! lol.

Did I mention I am well on my way to vegetarianism – even dare I say veganism??? Probably since February. And Garry is right there with me, sometimes ahead of me! He feels so good, his glucose numbers are normal (he tests every morning). He’s lost 30 pounds. It’s kind of been a process – but I figure every meal without meat, fish, or dairy saves or helps an animal, the planet & our health. The reason I wanted to mention it to you is because one of your blogs about being a Vegan & the whole thought process of being a snobby Vegan or a militant Vegan really made an impression on me. Also, that it was a process & took you a while to give up cheese. I never forgot that post – so remember that when you write, even if you don’t know it, you are making an impact on some people. I didn’t switch right away but it was stored away in my brain – not word for word but the gist of it! We are probably 98% there.

Wow! I wrote those posts on being a vegetarian, which Jodi so kindly refers to, well over two years ago! Last week, my best friend, who is not a commenter, sent me this text: “You are a really good writer Cindy. Did you ever consider writing a book?” I can’t tell you how moved I was by these wonderful and completely unexpected remarks!

Keep moving toward your dream. Keep doing the work. Keep going even when you feel like nothing you do matters because you may be making an impact on someone right now, who just hasn’t told you… yet!

Many blessings to all,

 

Cynthia

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justdragonfly

Naturally Challenging: One Week Down! Stomping Past Self-sabotage!

Phew, I made it through the first week! I posted a new blog post every day for seven days in a row. That is a new record for me. In fact, I’ve always been pretty pleased with myself if I posted weekly. However, this is not the time to rest on my new laurels (…perhaps a bit of an over-statement but you get the gist.) I still have 23 more posts to go after today.

Procrastination and I may have parted ways last week but that little devil, Self-sabotage, is still lurking around, waiting for a chance to strike. It’s funny because you need almost super human awareness to realize that it is even happening. It can look like procrastination but the difference is that procrastination usually stops you from starting something in the first place. Self-sabotage creeps in when you are going strong on a project. It happens like this:

7am

“I need to sit down and write…. but first let me take a shower,” (even though I took one a mere 10 hours ago.)

8am

“I feel clean! Now I can write… I am just going to check my email first… real quick.”

(Who even knows what happened between 9am and 11am…)

11am

“I know I need to write but let me just reorganize this cabinet right now because it is bothering me.”

All of the sudden the day is over, the post didn’t get written. Then the feelings of humiliation and failure come in and Self-sabotage reigns victorious. If I let that happen, I would have only myself to blame. Where does this self-sabotaging tendency even come from? Why would anyone do it to herself?

I am not a therapist but I suspect it is a way of dealing with insecurity. Putting things off after proving yourself capable of accomplishing them; seems to me, to be a form of self-denial. It is way of not dealing with the new potentially painful thoughts that might come up like:

“Yeah, I am making headway on my goal but does it really matter?”

“Will people care about what I write?”

“I am not making money from this. Should I be doing something else with my time?”

“What if I don’t make my goal? What if I do then what next?”

Usually once I start asking myself questions like these, my accommodating brain will bring up evidence or rather memories that will support these doubts and fears. I use the word “memories” because they are not actual proof of anything. Just because I failed to complete some writing projects in the past, does not mean I will fail this time. Also, remembering doubts and fears other people have projected onto me are not facts, regarding what I am truly capable of accomplishing. They are just opinions. (… And you know that old phrase about opinions!)

I feel pretty confident I am going to make it all the way through this challenge despite the shadow of self-sabotage, attempting to keep step with me today. I made myself a promise that I would do it for myself, no one else. It doesn’t mean that I am not watching the click reports like a hawk at times. In fact, I beam with happiness and gratitude whenever someone takes the time to leave me a comment. (…no pressure!) I just have finally figured out that it is my opinion that matters the most! I don’t need permission or approval from anyone else to do something. Knowing that now makes all the difference!

Does Self-sabotage ever stop you when you are making progress? Please leave me a reply in the comments section. I love hearing from you!

Many blessings to all,

 

Cynthia

Blessings to all,

Cynthia

justdragonfly