Hold on Tight, It’s NaNoWriMo!

Today is the day: National Novel Writing Month begins.

For writers of fiction and non-fiction alike, November 1st is a high holiday. Let the furious typing begin.

This is my fourth year of NaNoWriMo and I’ve decided to give myself a break.

Usually, during the month of November, I am desperately trying to write my current novel and keep up with blog posts. And, if I haven’t written anything, I feel guilty for letting my readers down.

 

Not this year!

This year will be different. Each week, and there are five weeks in November, I will be posting a quote that has some kind of meaning in my life.

The quote I have chosen for this week is one that seldom fails to make me smile. It is one that also hints at the story I will be writing for the next several weeks.

I’m not sure who wrote it. Some say it is a play on a line in one of J.R. Tolkien works. If I haven’t cited the correct source, it is because I haven’t found it.

I hope you enjoy it too!

 

 

Beginning in December, I will be back to my regularly scheduled posts. I hope you stay tuned.

Thanks,

Angela

www.achoekwater.com

 

 

 

A Return to Writing Includes Searching For Balance

Searching for Balance

I’ve returned to writing and the hectic pace I’ve had in the past. I have something “writerly” planned for nearly every weekend in October. November marks NaNoWriMo so that month is full and also begins the holiday season. In the meantime, I am deep in the middle of a marketing class.

Whew!

I’m tired already.

And, therein lies the search for balance.

It would be easy for me to look at my plans for the next several months and let my anxiety overwhelm me. It’s happened before, hence the unexpected hiatus from writing.

Unfortunately, keeping myself from being overwhelmed is often on my mind as I strive for balance in my life.

Tips for Balance

Here are some thoughts that have kept me going in the past and I hope are still helpful during this especially busy time.

1. Do the next thing. This one takes a bit of explanation. When I’m feeling overwhelmed I tend to look at the big picture rather than the small bites of life. That is where doing the next thing comes in. If the next thing that needs to happen in your life is to make the bed or do the dishes or make lunch, do that. Life happens in small moments and getting something done, even for that moment, will have a positive impact on your peace of mind.

2. Stick to your ritual. Every writer I know has a ritual that has evolved over time. My tends to follow the same things each day. I make coffee, light a candle, and write morning pages. Those three pages each morning are my warm up. Once those are complete I write. During normal times (i.e. not NaNoWriMo) my goal is 500 words and in November that bumps up to 2000 words each day. If you have other rituals, stick to those.

3. Keep your downtime. For me, downtime is crucial as too much to do and lots of chaos creates an unbalanced me. I have a building where I can escape but even there, if things are too noisy, I will struggle. Even if the chaos is positive, like having my grand babies over, it still creates stress in me and I need to deal with it.

A Final Thought

One last thing that I need to remember – Be Gentle With Myself! There is always tomorrow.

I am sure there are more ways to find balance during the busy times but having too many things to think about, again, even if they are positive, creates a struggle.

 

Discovering Hidden Gems from a Restless Reader

Discovering Hidden Gems

It’s no secret that I have a ridiculous book collection. I am not alone in this as I encounter people all the time who have tons of books.

I am also not alone in the fact that my “to be read” pile is much larger than my “already read” pile. In fact, at any given time I have half a dozen or more books that I have begun and put down for whatever reason.

At this time, I must own that I am a restless reader – meaning I can be reading anything at any time before flitting to something else depending on my mood or interest.

One thing all of these books that I’ve hardly begun have in common is there is often a book mark that tells me where I stopped.

Book marks I’ve discovered when I’ve gone back to read:

  • The Dog Ear – that folded corner forever marking my journey through the book.
  • The Beautifully illustrated bookmarks – these are those pretty ones that can be found nearly everywhere and often include some kind of tassel. The tassel makes reading difficult because Pippa loves to play with things that dangle. One of my favorites is one, perhaps a bit less illustrated than most, I picked up in Paris several years ago. Every time I look at it, I remember the vacation.
  • The Ribbon guides – these are often found in journals and, again, mark where I left off.
  • The Whatever bookmark – I’ve used nearly everything I could get my hands on including facial tissues, receipts – sometimes from the purchase of the book but more often not, other books. Nothing is safe when it comes to marking my place

New Discoveries:

Recently I’ve discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, something new as I’ve gone back to a book I’d previously started.

Often, in my reading and writing, I will write down words, quote’s or thoughts on random pieces of paper, most often index cards. And, I will stick these cards just about anywhere, seldom all together as I tend to be a restless reader. Most often these index cards are purple as I seldom can resist anything in that color. These words I write are generally from a book or article I am reading and want to remember.

And, I have no system for these cards, no rhyme or reason for the words on the cards, and I stick them everywhere.

Recently I pulled a book off my bookshelf and began reading. The book was one I’d opened previously and never finished. Books, especially non-fiction, have a sense of timing. Simply put, I am not ready for the message of a particular book, and I move on to something else.

While not advocating this method of restless reading, I have found a few benefits:

  • You can gain information quickly.
    • A drawback to this one is that you cannot go deep into information with this method.
  • There is always something to read
  • Coming back to a book is like coming back to an old friend who waits patiently for you to settle down.

A Needed Message

As I was reading one of these “old friend” books, I found another positive to my restless reading habits:

I found a purple card marking the place where I’d stopped reading.

And, this one had a message: “your heart will always tell you what is working and what is not.

I came across this little gem of a message while reading Simple Abundance written by Sarah Ban Breathnach. These words struck something in me and I wrote it on a  purple index card and somehow it found its way into another book I was reading.

How simple and yet how profound this little gem turned out to be. It was just what I needed to hear in that moment of my life. I don’t even remember writing it down.

I still write these little gems, though more often they are on sticky notes or in one of my many journals. Perhaps I should go back to the index cards. They make great bookmarks, and as my restless reading habits attest, I am liable to find them anywhere.

Who knows what words of wisdom I may need next.

 

 

Five Lessons Learned in My First Two Years of Blogging

Happy Anniversary!

Each year, usually around my birthday, I like to look back over the previous year and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned. Recently I’ve passed a birthday, and the 2nd anniversary of my blog, and I’ve decided that it is time for my yearly look back.

The last year has been rough, possibly one of the roughest of my life. I survived and am beginning to thrive again. After all, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. While I may agree with the sentiment, I am not so fond of the trials.

 

I won’t bore you with a retelling of the trials, but I did want to look at some of the thoughts that have come to mind from the past two years of blogging.

Through all the ups and downs, I’ve managed to blog most weeks, keep up with my writing practice (sort of) and have even learned a thing or two.

Here are a few things I’ve learned during this creative journey I’ve been on for a while:

1. Blogging is hard. Writing every day is hard. Even when life is going okay, it is hard to show up day after day at your desk to get the work done.

2. When your tired, rest. Don’t quit. I’ve seen this saying all over social media lately, and I’ve taken it to heart. Even when things aren’t looking good, try giving yourself a break which can be a balm for the soul.

3. Creativity never runs out. Things may feel a little dry at times, but getting a new perspective on things can help breath new life into your work. Julia Cameron writes about artist dates, taking the time to recharge your creative juices by going to a bookstore or museum. I’ve found that rearranging my space can help get things moving again.

4. Though I control what goes onto my blog, I cannot control how it is received. As a person with control issues, this is a particularly challenging lesson to learn. I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the posts that do particularly well are often ones that didn’t seem all that wonderful to me.

And, finally:

5. This creative life is worth all the struggles. Even when things are rough, and my mind is blank, I know that this is temporary and I am right where I am supposed to be. I can’t imagine being anywhere else except right here.

It is good to take a look at the past, sometimes. Lessons are everywhere, and it’s good to learn them.

However, life goes on, and its time to take the lessons we learn and apply them to our future. Without that, we are stuck.

And, no one likes being stuck.

What would it take for you to get unstuck?

Is your life, creative or otherwise, moving forward the way you want?

What would you need to make that happen?

Do You Dare to Share?

Insecure Writers Support Group

It has been quite a while since we’ve had a submission to the Insecure Writers Support Group. As Wednesdays are the scheduled days for my blog post, I thought I would talk about insecurities that plague all creatives.

I’m not sure that it matters what you do whether it is writing, art in its many forms, music, photography, crafting or any of the other myriad of ways people express themselves, everyone arrives at the same point. What to do with your work? I know I am at this spot and I am certain that I am not the only one.

Some people are content with the creation process. They can spend hours creating and making something out of nothing, without further thought to what to do with their items. If you visit their homes, especially those in the crafting areas, to find their walls covered with the displays of their work and it is beautiful. The value is in the work and how it makes them feel; it is a good thing. If music is their thing, they appear to be content to make it for themselves and their families.

I am not one of those people.

Other people are able to create their work and find ways to market it. Regardless if they stay true to the creative process (this is where we create to popular demand or not) their main goal is to have their work be seen and judged, by the public. They are relentless in their pursuit of that elusive “success”.

I am not one of these people either. Apparently, I fall somewhere in between.

Creativity is a process, a soul bearing process, that can be difficult to send out into the universe. I also believe that the things we create can contribute greatly to the human experience. If we dare to share.

This daring to share comes with great risk to both our souls and our creativity. It is, for me, one of the scariest things when I hand someone something that I have poured myself into only to have to listen to their opinion and judgment about that item. The first time I presented my work at my writing group asking for critique, I spent a few days in recovery, not that the critique was a problem and people weren’t polite. No, in fact, they were incredibly helpful. My soul simply was battered and needed to be soothed.

Regardless of where each of stands with our work, we risk something when we take some type of raw material and use it to make something without knowing where the end result will be. This is creativity.

Only you can decide whether that risk is worth it.

The Dark Side of the Creative Life

Life has its ups and downs. Things can be going along swimmingly and then bam; everything turns upside down. You can’t seem to make heads or tails of everything and it feels as if you are wading through quicksand. Doing your creative work, whatever that may be, becomes nearly impossible.

You have reached the dark side of the creative life.

 

We all have those moments where the blank page appears to mock any effort to fill it.

The thought of reaching for a pen or paint brush fills us with dread and, if you can force yourself to pick up your instrument, everything feels flat and dull.

I believe this is especially difficult during the darkness of the winter months when everything is cold and gray.

While I don’t believe that giving up whatever creative work during these dark days is the best thing being able to recognize what may have an effect on your work can help carry you through. The following list are things that everyone experiences on occasion:

Grief – We all know that when we lose someone, we experience grief. What is less known or understood is that grief has it’s own timing. There is that initial rush of acute grief immediately following the loss. The feelings are strong and raw; we are powerless against them. What I’ve come to discover is that waves of grief can come at any time, often appearing during significant times associated with that loss. I’ve also come to realize that even when we understand this wave and recognize that the crest happens during that significant time, we are caught in the emotions associated with the loss.

As longtime readers of my blog know, I lost my brother one year ago. I carefully observed my handling of my feelings of grief (as per my work as a therapist) and knew that anniversaries of any kind would cause a wave of grief. What I didn’t know is how much that wave would affect my life. The wave has crested (the anniversary has passed) and I must now attempt to crawl my way out of the darkness. What surprised me the most is how much and how long this anniversary of his death affected my creative life.

Illness – Everyone comes down with an illness at some point. Regardless of the type of illness, our energy is sapped, the energy that once fed our creative life. What little energy we can muster goes into basic needs like breathing rather than coughing.

Illness has struck me more in this year than in the past five, some more serious than others. Finding the energy to write in the midst of even a simple cold has often been more than I could muster. I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to write freely again.

Holiday Craziness – How many people can add one more thing during the middle of the holidays? Between parties, gift buying, wrapping and giving, and cooking, who has time to be creative? And, once the holidays are over how do you get back to your regular life

I talked about my plan to deal with the holidays a couple of months ago in this post; mostly that plan included working on my minimum goals for creativity. Still, finding the time to sit down and complete my minimum of 500 words was incredibly difficult, often due to grief and illness not just the craziness of the holiday.

Confession time – there were days I didn’t write at all. I thought about it but didn’t sit down and put words on paper.

Tips to ease this darkness that sometimes threatens to take over your soul:

1. Organize something – I cleaned and organized the junk drawer in my kitchen. I put all the batteries into another drawer that was also a junk drawer (who needs two?), I put the games into the area with the other games and the tools in my husbands one drawer he’s allowed for tools in the house. None of these drawers were in the kitchen. I then put all of my pot holders into that drawer so everyone would know where to find them as they hadn’t had a home in my tiny kitchen. I felt cleansed by this simple act, and the creative juices began to flow.

2. Find or return to a different type of creative endeavor – I like to knit. Mostly I knit dishcloth’s because they take small amounts of concentration which leaves more thought for my creative work. Not to mention, I have a cool and unique dishcloth when my other ones wear out.

3. Read something – I’m not sure it matters what you read. Fiction gets my creative juices flowing, and non-fiction makes me think differently both of which can send me to my writing.

4. Go into nature – Yes, I know it’s cold and snowy and dark but stepping outside and taking some deep breaths will breath new life into you and your creative work.

5. Laugh – Watch a comedy, hang out with friends who make you laugh or play with your cat. Find some levity in you life and your creativity will return.

I’m sure there are many other things to help come out of the dark side of creativity, but these are some of the ones that help me. I hope any one of these will help if you find yourself in a funk.

Creative Doldrums

christmas-1786591_1920It’s almost the end of the first week of December and I haven’t written more than 800 words. The struggle with this is that none of these 800 words written in December have been on my work in progress, i.e. my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel. Sitting down to write is the last thing on my mind

I have the doldrums.

This happens often during December.

NaNoWriMo, with all of its wonderful energy and connectedness, is over, and writing once again becomes a solitary occupation.

And, then comes the holiday’s with all of the craziness they can muster.

Doesn’t it seem as if, no matter what you do, the holidays become out of control? How?

When all of this happens, being creative is a struggle.

Most of the time, all I want to do is wrap up in a blanket, watch movies and wait until December is over. Of course that isn’t necessarily a good idea. It is so hard to begin writing again if I don’t keep the habit up.

I have found a few things to entertain myself:

A capella holiday music. Pentatonix to be specific. This group is fantastic and I highly recommend them (www.ptxofficial.com).

Holiday lights are plentiful in my area and the drive home has been fun. We don’t do much outside (or inside) decorating, mostly because I’ve been known to leave my tree up until spring, and I really appreciate those that put the effort in.

15392978_10104526675747528_93128939628674883_oWatching kids sit on Santa’s lap was great fun for me and it wasn’t only about my own grandkids. My work hosted the local Breakfast with Santa and I had the privilege to take the pictures for this event. My friend Amie did a fabulous job, as did Mr. and Mrs. Claus, in making this a wonderful day.

 

Though I am not going to be hard on myself for this struggle with my creativity during this time, I am going to keep focused on my goal – writing 500 words each day. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll finish that first draft by the end of December.

How do you stay creative when things are crazy in your life?

 

Catching November Up

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winner_congratsNovember has been a hard month. My life has changed in a lot of ways, and I’ve been incredibly busy. It is my expectation and belief that I will return my weekly posts in December. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Part of what makes November busy is NaNoWriMo. This year I took a different path than what I normally do, or at least have done in the past.

NaNoWriMo 2016 is my third year of participating and also my third win as the above banner states. By far, this year has been the most difficult but not because the work was hard.

Life! Life is hard.

Sometimes I forget the lesson never to give up and need a reminder.

Thank you November for the reminder.

See you in December when life becomes rough in different ways!

Do You Have Art Scars?

pumpkin-1030817_1920

Recently, I’ve heard the term ‘Art Scars’ and I have been completely enthralled.

How I understand this term is the damage or trauma that often happens early in our lives that becomes the voice we hear whenever we begin to create or even to think about being creative.

We all have a story, maybe from our early years with our families or from an early incident at school, that comes to mind when we speak of the story of our creativity. Often this incident is so incredibly painful that we are held back for years from being creative.

Consider the following:

Once, a little girl had a favorite dress. Lavender and lace, going all the way to the floor, she felt like a princess each time she wore it. That little girl had a favorite teacher whom she wanted to share this experience with. One day, she went to the paper shelf, where she and all of the children in her class could find paper to use for whatever they wanted to, and found a large scrap of thick white paper, the kind that her teacher used for many things around the class room. She decided she would draw a picture of herself wearing her favorite dress to give to her teacher.

After spending considerable time on her picture, she stood in front of her beloved teacher, standing in the middle of the classroom with all the other children milling around. Holding the picture out, the little girl was so excited.

In that moment the teacher, only seeing the white paper, began to reprimand the little girl for using the paper meant for other uses. When the child attempted to explain she’d found the paper on the paper shelf, the teacher didn’t listen. She simply told the child she was no longer allowed to go to the paper shelf without permission. The child turned away and hid her tears.

I believe that there are lessons in every experience of life and this little girl learned some hard lessons:

◆ Her creativity wasn’t as important as the cost and purpose of the medium.
◆ She needed permission to create.
◆ Not everyone can give support regardless of our feelings for them.

Of course, these are just some of the lessons learned by a wound that eventually turns into an art scar. In order to heal from one of these blows, one must stop the festering, a drawing off of the poison if you will.

Healing begins by first realizing there is an actual hurt, after all the voices must come from somewhere. After the realization comes the acceptance because if you continue to rail against the pain and unfairness, there is little energy left for healing.

Healing is what we are after if we are going to live that creative and fulfilling life we are after.

To do this we have to understand the actual lessons:

1. We are creative and, will be creative regardless of the cost. As a human being, we are all creative in one way or another.
2. We don’t need anyone’s permission to create. If you insist on needing permission, please accept this blog post as such.
3. Support is always helpful but we cannot count on anyone else in our creative endeavors.

Knowing where your scars are can help you overcome those early experiences.

Create for the sake of yourself and for creativity. It is, after all, your life and no one can live it for you.

How To Gear Up For NaNoWriMo

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_participant-2

National Novel Writing Month begins in just a few weeks and if you haven’t begun to think about participating, it is time.

National Novel Writing Month is a challenge that allows you to stretch yourself and grow and finally reach that dream to write a novel. The challenge is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. If you’ve participated in the past, then this is another chance to take the next step. As writers, we are continually learning and improving our craft, NaNoWriMo is another opportunity for growth while completing a piece of writing.

All that being said, November is not an easy month.

However, you can start right now to prepare for the difficulties that come with fast drafting a novel. Here are a few ideas:

Begin now: I’ve spoken to many writers who don’t cultivate the habit of writing every day. I subscribe to the thought that writing a minimum of words each day will improve your craft indescribably. For NaNoWriMo, the best thing you can do is develop this habit of daily writing before November arrives. Beginning today, write some words, decide on an amount, whether it is 100, 500, or 1000 words each day, and continue into November and after. Writers write. It is that simple and that difficult.

Make a Plan: A debate rages between planners and panthers on the value of planning out your novel. Planners, the extreme ones, prefer to have every chapter and scene outlined. Pantsers prefer to discover their story as they go. If one way or the other works for you, go for it. But if you are a pantser, having an idea and a place to reach won’t hurt you. A simple plan may make November a bit less stressful. For me, I will go somewhere in the middle, having a 7-point structure and some thoughts and ideas written out, means that I can let my characters tell me what is happening.

Find a Community: Writing is difficult, especially since it is done alone. Finding and connecting with a local or online group will create camaraderie and a bit of fun during what can be a challenging time. The NaNoWriMo.org site has a forum if you live out in the boonies as I do, to discover and connect with others who are furiously writing during November. Many regions have NaNo groups and offer events during October and November, it’s a great way to plug into others who share your aspirations.

Writing your novel during National Novel Writing Month is a challenging, and rewarding, endeavor. Whether or not you actually publish this particular piece of writing, you still showed up to the blank page.

And, that is worth celebrating!

Please let us know if you are participating!