Warning: The Holidays Are Fast Approaching

The holidays are coming.

At times, these four words fill me with dread, and yet this is supposed to be a happy time. All the cards and commercials say so.

And yet, it’s not. For so many reasons, the holidays are filled with angst and heartache. More often they are filled with the need to do more and have more, be everywhere.

As this is often the case, one of the struggles we tend to have is that we are a blended family and trying to keep everyone happy is a juggling act that defies reason.

I wrote about this last year in my post, Slow Down and Breathe. The steps I wrote then are absolutely still valid, so I am giving them to you again. I hope you find them helpful this year.

Life is about creating balance, and the following thoughts may help you find balance and achieve holiday peace.

Thoughts to Holiday Peace

1. Plan Ahead: Keep your calendar updated so you can see what is coming. Know what needs to happen and is expected at each event to reduce the surprises. For example, if you must make a dish-to-pass for every party, you will need to find the recipes (or several, as is my case) then you can plan and pick up all the ingredients for the recipe ahead of time.

2. Reduce the “Events”: Not every holiday party or even is a “must” attend. Decide which ones are the most important and go only to these. Not everyone will understand, but you must take care of you. Attempting to attend every event is a recipe for exhaustion.

3. Reduce Gifting: Although there seems to be a competition for the biggest, better than last year, gift-giving season, this can create pressure, stress, and, of course, debt. For the most part, we have what we need – for some, we have too much. Do we really need that next gadget? Do my kids really need that “must have” toy?

4. Take Time for Yourself: Do things for yourself like long baths, nights out with your partner, or alone time. Have fun. It’s so difficult to give and give, without taking the time to recharge yourself. The exhaustion and burnout can make for an unpleasant holiday season.

5. Breathe: Just 5 minutes each morning of deep breathing can set the tone for the entire day. Breathing can detoxify your system, lower your stress and help you sleep better at night.

Other Thoughts

I will be talking about creating balance in your life in the following weeks. Balance isn’t something you achieve all at once; some say one can never find balance. In a sense that may be true, however, being aware of when and where your life gets thrown out of balance is powerful. Once you can see where that imbalance is in your life, you can make choices to improve.

Choice is important when seeking balance. Without it, each of us is subject to the whims of life. Not that things still won’t come up, by actively seeking a balance and making the best choices for that present moment will help you move through whatever bump in the road you may encounter.

I hope you have the Holiday season you are seeking. In whatever form that takes.

Angela

www.achoekwater.com

Under Construction

construction-1174825_1280Life Changes Constantly

The next time you visit my blog you will see an “Under Construction” on the home page.

This is good news actually.

For the next couple of months, I will be rebranding my blog and giving it a facelift.

In the meantime, please stay tuned as I may send out action items to my email list as I create fabulous new content.

 

Thank you all for your support during the past 18 months.

I hope to see you on the other side.

Feed Your Creativity

unnamed-7I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately.

How does it work?

Can you force yourself to be creative on command?

Where does inspiration come from?

What do you do when you are not feeling creative at all?

What is a creative life?

All important questions often with unsatisfying answers.

A short answer is that each person must answer the questions about living a creative life for themselves.

The long answer, especially for people who want to live a creative life, is that there are no answers.

To ask myself these questions, I find that I, myself, don’t have answers. The inspiration for the work I do comes from so many different places. For instance, the story I am currently working on came from a bedtime story I told my grandson and I’m not even sure where the inspiration came from that night.

On days when I am feeling decidedly uncreative, I find that naps help. When naps aren’t working, I have a few other things that I try to jumpstart my creativity:

1. Read – Often this is a nonfiction type book because if I fall into fiction, I may never crawl back out again.

2. Seek out nature – I may take a walk, find some water or just wander around my yard, I find my head clears, and I can work again.

3. Story Prompts and exercises – I don’t use these very often, but I have been pleasantly surprised because they work.

4. Spend time with others – Just getting up from my desk and interacting with IRL people seems to reset my brain.

5. Take a break – There are times when nothing works except to walk away and not even think about the work for a while. Your WIP will be there when you get back, and everyone needs a break.

Other writers have different tactics, and I am always interested in what they do. The one thing that I have discovered is that those who are focused on their work don’t wait for inspiration. They show up to the blank page and just work.

Most of the time this works for me too.

I’ve been reading Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA book and following her blog posts. She describes her oracle box which has several items to help her stay inspired. Some of the items included in her oracle box are dice for different writing exercises, a word box with different words written on pieces of paper, and an image box filled with photos from magazines or postcards. All of these help her to stay inspired.

I believe I am going to create an oracle box and fill it with those things that inspire me. I’ve already started with a Pinterest page called Story Inspiration. I now need to round up some other things to fit into a box.

How do you stay creative?

Resistance is Your Compass

unnamed-6 Resistance

 

This post has been a struggle to write. You might say I’ve been resistant to the very thought of resistance.

Tonight at dinner, my grandson was resistant to eating dinner. Even though he’d asked for and received what he wanted, he’d decided in the meantime that he wanted something else. The ensuing negotiation was interesting:

“Caleb, you asked for a grilled cheese.”
“But, I want a sub sandwich.”
“If you eat this, we can have that tomorrow.”
“Why can’t I have what I want?” This one had large tears in the eyes.
“Because this is what we are having for dinner.”
“But I don’t want that.”
“You only have two pieces. You can eat those.”
“No, I don’t want to.” More tears.
“Caleb, if you don’t eat then you can’t have dessert.”
Even more tears, because there is nothing he likes more than dessert.
“Take a bite.” He takes a mouse-sized nibble from the corner of the triangle.
“Really? You can take a bigger bite than that.”
He shakes his head.
“How about this? If you eat just one of the triangles, you can have dessert.”
(He had eaten some chicken just a bit before this so he wasn’t starving.”
“You mean if I eat just this one, then I can have dessert?”
“Yes.”
He takes a bite and chews. “I don’t like this part.” He pointed to the crust.
“You don’t have to eat the crust.” This came from Mom.
He takes another bite and then proceeds to peel the crust from the sandwich.

It took 10 minutes for him actually to finish the 1/4 of a sandwich I’d made and even then, I helped with the last couple of bites.

I guess the reward was worth it: homemade hot fudge brownie Sundays. He finished it without speaking.

Sometimes I feel as if I am dealing with my inner child being resistant to whatever task I’ve set before her. It is a matter of finding which buttons to push to get the job done.

In her book, DIY MFA, Gabriela Pereira states that there is no writer’s block only resistance. Discovering what that resistance is key to making the words come again.

Where does your resistance lead you?

My resistance often helps me to focus on some issue buried so deep I didn’t know it was there.

For instance, I had been working on a story this spring and was about a quarter of the way through it. This story was one of those that had been on my mind for the past year, and I was excited about it.

Then, I took the Storytelling Superpower Quiz.

My superpower is Survivor. What that means is the character’s I write about often come from a survivor archetype.

Somehow I took this personally and that created a wall of resistance.

I realized all of my characters, including the one I was currently working with, were survivors. I thought that made them weak.

At that moment I didn’t see the positives of writing from a survivor archetype. Great stories come from a survivor archetype. It has taken me some time to understand both the archetype and my response.

Although I’m not working on that particular story, I haven’t given it up completely. I’ve also IMG_0316begun a new story inspired by the reluctant diner above.

Learning to work with resistance has had a positive effect on my writing.

Well, at least I am writing again.

What does your writing teach you?

Family Friday Updates

sparklers-923029_1280My, how time flies!

Today is July 1st, and everyone is gearing up for the long holiday weekend.

Updates have been long overdue, and since I am on an illness imposed rest period, I thought it was time.

 

This summer has been full of intentions:

I intended to plant a garden. The reality is more that Rob planted tomatoes and potatoes. Both are doing well, but there is nothing else growing except weeds, which are prolific this year.

I intended to finish my third novel and begin editing one of my other novels. Yeah, life has been interesting, and I haven’t worked much on my fiction writing. I have been working on some other things which I will announce soon but not so much with my fiction.

I intended to begin walking every day simply for peace of mind. Well, I’m not sure I need to say anything else about that.

I intended to make it down the river in my kayak, and that hasn’t happened – YET. I still have hope that it will happen.

The goals I’ve had to create to cope with life right now are so much vaguer than I usually create:

1. Do one thing each day to move my career forward. I’ve decided that this means just about anything I do that has to do with writing or learning about blogging etc. This seems to be working.

2. Step out of my comfort zone. More on this one at a later date.

3. Be serious about my creative life. Again, more about this one later.

Summer got busy about a month ago, much busier than I had expected. As usual, things have changed at work which is a struggle. And, we have guests this summer.

img_1222

The kids have enjoyed the bigger yard and play area that Papa made for them. Also, pancakes for dinner is a yummy experience!

img_1223

img_1227

 

 

I have accomplished a few things. The outside of my building is painted and a small flower garden planted in front. It is quite nice to sit in there with all the windows open; at least until the sun sinks into the west. Then, the heat becomes overwhelming. But still, my writing shed is my favorite place to be.

 

I’ve also discovered furniture painting and will be sharing more about this part of my life. The projects that I have waiting for me keep increasing, and since the summer has gotten so busy, I’m not keeping up with them. Though not part of my intentions, I am excited about this.

Here is a piece I painted in a recent class: img_1118

Rob built a water feature in our yard. It has taken most of the spring, and the plants are now growing well. Evenings are nice to sit out and listen to the babbling brook, even if the river is nowhere in sight.

img_1003
Though the summer isn’t over, it feels “too late” for some things. “Too late” is a strange feeling when there is still two months to go before Labor Day. Although summer usually goes fast, when things are chaotic and busy, it goes so much faster with no way to slow it down.

How is your summer going?

Are you accomplishing much or simply hanging on
as the time flies by?

Did you set any goals for yourself?

I hope so.

I hope you have a wonderful 4th of July.

Debunking Creative Myths

unnamed-5In the DIY MFA book (Chapter 6), Gabriela Periera debunks the following five myth about creativity:

1. Creativity is an exclusive club, and you can’t be a part of it.
2. Creativity is innate, you either have it or you don’t.
3. Creativity is driven by chaos, so there is no way to control it.
4. Creativity is all about getting that one “Big Idea.”
5. Creativity is focusing on an idea until it is perfect.

While I recognize each of these myths, none of these seem to resonate with me. At least, none resonated with me at this point in my life.

That is the good news.

Of, course, there has to be bad news.

The myth I seem to struggle with the most is:

Creativity has no place in “real” work.

The definition of creative, according to The Oxford New Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus (2009) is 1) inventive; imaginative, and 2) able to create.

Nothing in this definition says that creativity can’t be your work. For me, this myth persists.

In the back of my mind, there has always been a distinction. Work was something you did to make money so you could pay bills. Not live, pay bills. Being creative has always been relegated to hobby status.

Perhaps that is why my journey has gone the path that it has.

When searching for the origins of our personal myths – which is a requirement of overcoming them – it is not to place blame. Rather, look at your myths about creativity and decided your truth.

One of the things I’ve discovered is that being creative is an asset in my “work” life. I see it as a strength I’ve found for myself. Creativity as a strength is a truth that debunks one part of the myth.

The other side, well, that one is a work in progress. How does one earn a living through creativity alone?

I am not certain if a person can since life is always about seeking balance. However, if you believe that life is about finding your higher purpose and if that purpose is to be a creative then, you still have to balance that with the business end of life.

I’ve also realized that the basis for all of these myths is fear. For each myth, there is a “what if” question. What if this happens or that? These are all fear based.

Do you ever really get over your fears?

Do you want to get over your fears?

Two very different questions. One is about belief, and one is about desire.

If you answered yes to the second one, then seek the truth in what scares you.

*What is the thing I am really afraid of?
*Is this fear because of an experience or the thought of an experience?
*Do I still need to be afraid?

Fear is one of our most powerful instincts. So powerful, in fact, that we often have little control over certain fears. Our brains and bodies are designed to respond – to keep us safe. If overused, this fear response can create problems which then become difficult to overcome.

One of my favorite quotes is:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Anais Nin

I believe this is appropriate for this discussion. Facing the fear that appears to keep you safe are the same ones keeping you stuck.

You must decide for yourself which is more painful?

Beware Best Practices

unnamed-4How do you write (or create or anything)?

This question gets asked of every person who proclaims themselves to be a writer, famous or not. The more famous ones often share their formula’s for success.

Do this … and you will be published and make millions?

Well, maybe that is a slight exaggeration.

We often look to best practices in many different areas. For instance, one could look at research and seek out statistics and believe they have found the best practice for whatever the subject is and we will be successful. The problem is that if you only follow someone else’s practice, you will never know what works best for you or how capable you are.

I, myself, have followed some of these ‘best practices’:

Julia Cameron (The Artist Way) recommends writing three longhand pages each morning just as the day begins.

Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones among others) describes freewriting to be something akin to neutralizing the inner critic.

Anne Lamont (Bird by Bird) speaks to writing shitty first drafts as a way to remove the idea of perfection.

These are just a few of the best practices I’ve followed. I managed to follow Julia’s recommendations the best, but even that has fallen by the wayside. Although, I still believe in the shitty first drafts because anything else would be paralyzing.

Dorothea Brandt (Becoming a Writer) talks about writing first thing in the morning. She even goes so far as to say that if you need caffeine to wake up, make up a thermos full of yerba mate tea, so you waste no time in getting to your desk. I’ve only gone so far as to make my coffee pot ready the night before.

And, then there is Stephen King (On Writing) who gives some of the most interesting advice: Read a lot; Write a lot. Again, this can be challenging if life sometimes (always) gets in the way.

What I’ve discovered is that some things work sometimes, and other things work at other times. Gabriela Pereira of DIY MFA describes the process as iteration, which means to decide on a variable and see what works for you. Of course, it is more complicated than that so I would recommend you seek out her website if you want to know more.

While I believe in this, and in the rest of the ‘best practices,’ all of these feel a bit too restricting.

The past year has had its ups and downs, and my writing life has followed suite. The lessons learned have been ones that will (hopefully) carry me throughout my career.

Please do not consider the following a list of the ‘best practices.’ Take from the following lessons which ones work for you:

  1. Be kind to yourself. If you have a day where writing (or whatever you are working on) isn’t working, let it go. Come back tomorrow and try again.
  2. All writing counts. Whether it is a journal entry, a scene of your WIP, or a to-do list. Give yourself credit for facing the page.
  3. If the work you have in front of you refuses to cooperate, change the scenery. This change of scenery can be as simple as grabbing a pen and writing longhand or as vigorous as going for a walk. Your brain will thank you for the change.
  4. Do one thing every day to step closer to your goal. Take baby steps if you must. Read a few pages in a writing book or a scene (or two) in a book you admire. Peruse Pinterest and pin a few ideas. Cut out interesting articles from magazines or newspapers. The idea is to keep the mind flowing creatively even if the words won’t come.
  5. Sometimes you need a good ‘bitch’ session. Regardless of whether you choose the screen or paper, write down all the reasons you hate writing that day or the issues with the world. The benefits are twofold. All that negative energy gets out of your head, and you can look at your world with a clear head. And, you’ve put words on paper (see lesson #1).

While I have goals I want to accomplish each day, and I recommend that everyone have them, I’ve learned to give myself a break if life becomes too overwhelming. It won’t help to reach your goals if you hate what you do.

What are some of your ‘best practices’?

What is Your Writer’s Kryptonite?

unnamed-3The question this week is ‘What is your writer’s kryptonite’?

Since last week the question was is your writer’s superpower, I suppose this is a good time to talk about what works against that.

Through Gabriella Pereira’s Writer’s Superpower quiz, I discovered that my superpower is Survivor, someone who overcomes adversity.

Though I’ve always known what my kryptonite is, I still struggle to deal with it.

In writing, the goal is to put your character up a tree and throw stones at them to see how they react. In fact, writers create trauma in their characters. And, if I am writing with a survivor superpower, then, in fact, I am traumatizing an already traumatized character.

Yeah, me!

The interesting thing is that this is what makes a good story.

Which leads into my kryptonite.

FEAR

What is the basis for trauma? It is fear. My superpower and my kryptonite go together well.

Being afraid that something worse is going to happen to us. I tend to be nice to my characters which creates weak writing.

Too often what happens in our real life carries over to the page. It is interesting to me how much my superpower and my kryptonite are connected, and how each of those is connected to real life.

I was curious about fear and went to my trusty “Flip Dictionary” by Barbara Ann Kipfer. If you don’t have this book, it is a good one to have on your bookshelf. The Flip Dictionary won’t necessarily tell you the definition, but it will give you the phrases and the words that subject means

For instance, courage (which was the first word I chose that was opposite fear, though I’m not sure if it truly is) has three entries:

Courage (page 155): audacity, backbone, boldness, braveness, bravery, chin up, daring, etc.

There are nearly 20 words for courage, and that is only the first entry.

There is also a listing for an entry for courage from alcohol and courageous which has nearly as many words as courage itself.

Fear, on the other hand, has almost an entire page. On page 243 of the book, the top half of the page is devoted to types of fear. Did you know that the fear of lawyers is called ipsophobia? The list includes 53 other types of fear.

Also included are 17 entries on fear.

Fear: affright, agitation, alarm, anxiety, apprehension, awe, concern, consternation, dismay, etc.

In light of recent events, fear is a virulent infection throughout our lives.

How can any of this change?

“The only way out is through.”

I’m taking this to be my mantra, probably for the rest of my life. The only way to overcome fear is to face them. Facing your fears is difficult, and I’ve found that when I’ve dealt with one, another, even more, insidious issue takes its place.

So, the mantra. Each day, getting up and facing those things that scare you the most is an act of courage.

dandelion-705660_1280Courage isn’t the opposite of fear, yet they go hand in hand. There is a quote, and I will probably ruin it here but says something like “courage isn’t the absence of fear, courage is being afraid and doing it anyway.”

There is strength in fear, the question is, will that strength be used to stay back and stay safe or will the strength be in finding the courage to push through?

What is Your Storytelling Superpower?

First of all, I must apologize once again.

13342865_271110166611573_7045568650889436214_nIt has been over a week since you’ve heard from me. I have a good excuse, really I do. My life has changed (read: things are crazy and chaotic) greatly in the past week, and I’ve been trying to catch up. Sometimes keeping up with the rest of my life is so difficult.

It has been over a week since you’ve heard from me. I have a good excuse, really I do. My life has changed (read: things are crazy and chaotic) greatly in the past week, and I’ve been trying to catch up. Sometimes keeping up with the rest of my life is so difficult.

Though I am behind with the DIY MFA Street Team questions, I am going to continue to answer them because the questions are so thought provoking.

The question I am answering this week is: “What’s Your Storytelling Superpower?”

For the writers in the group or readers too, the tendency is to stick to a “type” of character. For reading, this is the same. Readers tend to stick with the same types of books and only occasionally branching out. Sometimes awareness is the best thing for you.

Gabriela has a Storytelling Superpower quiz. You can find it here. Try it and see what answer you get. I’ve taken the quiz a couple of times and have gotten the same answer: Survivor.

Before I go further, let’s talk about the different types of storytelling superpowers. According to the quiz, there are four: Underdog, Disruptor, Survivor, and Protector.

The Underdog is someone who has a deep desire for change, either themselves or the world around them.

The Disruptor tends to be rebellious against the status quo.

The Survivor works very hard to survive whatever life throws at them.

The Protector sees the world in danger and will do anything they can to protect it.

Knowing where you fit into this scale will help with your writing. It may even challenge you to break out of the rut you’ve developed. Gabriela is running a week long class about this very subject later this month. Here is the link to sign up and more information.

STSP-Tweet-SurvivorMy storytelling superpower is Survivor. This result is both surprising and expected. My stories are often told from this type of character. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, perhaps it simply is.

I’m excited about the class and can’t wait to learn more about both myself and my writing.

If you’d like to join the class check out DIY MFA.com/STSP. You’ll be glad you did.