On Sloth and Laziness

Feet-lasvegas-poolside-385439-lThis could be me today, minus the sunshine and the hairy legs. 

Because I am a lazin' fool.  It is two days after Christmas and I am lazing about.  Or you could call it lolling if you prefer.

My two new kitties don't care what you, or I, call it.  They have raised the art of lazing to an art form, and especially like to practice it in front of the fire.

I have new books to read, including Under the Dome by Stephen King, which is, oh, almost 1,000 pages long and thus should assure me lots of lazin' time.  For Christmas, I also got art supplies and crafting books, which should assure me time away from the computer, which I sorely need.

I resist both time away from the computer and lazin' time and I suspect I just figured out the reason why.  It is because I enjoy it so much I'm afraid I'll never stop.  I'll just sit here next to the fire, reading away, for all of eternity.  And never write another word.  Never earn another penny.  Never do another useful thing, ever. 

That is how my brain starts running when I relax.  So you can see why I generally chain myself to my computer.  Because otherwise, life as I know it will end.  There will be this glorious blaze of sloth and laziness and that will be it.

It is for this reason, also, that I rarely watch TV.  Because I am afraid I will enjoy it too much and I will become one with the chair and never, ever get up again.  I'll be able to recite details of every single episode of Law and Order and I will be one of the few people who understands anything about Lost.  So thus it is better simply not to turn the TV on in the first place, because if I did, I'd have to write a blog about TV instead of writing one about writing.

But for some reason, after Christmas, I allow myself to be slothful and lazy.  Maybe it is because the run-up to the big day is always such a last-minute rush for me (again, because I've generally chained myself to the computer) and the Christmas itself is a mad dash of cooking breakfast, opening presents, cleaning up, and then cooking dinner.  And after all of that, I actually have to admit I am tired instead of pretending that I'm not.

Or perhaps it is because Christmas gives me the bounty of choice–all those wonderful presents to peruse and play with!  Shiny new books and toys!  I'd be doing the givers a disservice if I didn't take a couple days to enjoy my presents, right?

Then, too, it could be because it is cold and wintry out (though no snow yet, boo) and we are still experiencing the shortest days of the year, even though they are already getting longer.  It is winter, the days are dark and cold, the blood runs slower and it is time to relax.

And so I'm doing my best to be lazy and slothful for as long as I possibly can.  I plan to return to my writing in a couple days, refreshed and renewed and full of new enthusiasm for things to write in the new year.  Because even the most prolific of writers needs a fallow time in which to rejuvenate and regenerate.  It is an integral part of the creative cycle, and by not allowing ourselves time to laze about, we do our muses a disservice.

So join me in being slothful and lazy this week.  You'll be glad you did.  And if you should feel energetic enough to write something, what is your favorite way to be slothful?

Photo used under terms of a Creative Commons 2.5 license.

All The Wonderful Forms of Journal Writing

The day has gotten away from me. 

First there was the small matter of waking up just the tiniest bit hungover, thanks to an evening out with Mayanna at Bernie's Southern Bistro.  Everyone who lives in the city of Portland and many who don't have been to Bernie's, but I had never been until last night.  The food was grand, and so was the barfly company.  Fun night.  But not conducive to being at my sharpest this morning.

Then I had to run to the grocery store for ingredients to make gooey banana bread with chocolate chips and coconut in it for my writing group's Christmas party tonight.  Then I had to have lunch with my son at Cadillac Cafe.  Then I had to come home and actually make the banana bread. And now it is after four, getting dark enough to turn the outside Christmas lights on, and I've not written my promised blog post.

So, here's the deal: today I'm going to write briefly about the four kinds of journal writing I like to practice, as a sort of preview and then go into them more throughly in the next couple of posts.  Okay?  Okay.  Here we go:

  • Morning Pages.  Popularized by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way, morning pages are just that–3 pages of writing, done first thing in the morning. 
  • Whiny Emotional Outbursts.  Often occurring in morning pages, whiny emotional outbursts are why I don't have therapy bills–because it all goes on the page.
  • Day Planning.  Obsessing on paper about all the things I need to get done, and figuring out a plan to accomplish them.
  • Chronology.  My current favorite, the chronology is actually writing about what happened in my life the day before.  The kind of things that people used to write letters about, when we wrote letters.

So there you have it, a wee preview of what I'm going to be writing about again soon.  Maybe even tomorrow, but I'm not promising anything, as I do have another social event at which wine will be served tonight.

If you want to read the first two posts on journal writing, here they are:

Part One, Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

Part Two, Practical Considerations for Journal Writing

And, if you haven't yet signed up for the free coaching sessions, what are you waiting for?  Go here to learn more.

The Magic of Believing

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***Note: The regularly scheduled post on journaling will continue at its usual time tomorrow or Friday.  Until then, if you would like to read the series on journaling, you could start with Part One and then head to Part Two.


Every year during the holiday season, my family and I watch our favorite Christmas movies.  Our selection is pretty much based on which movies we happen to have on DVD, and those are tried and true oldies like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Love Actually, The Holiday, White Christmas, and the perennial favorite, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the animated version that Burl Ives narrates.  This past weekend, we watched a relative newcomer–Elf, starring Will Ferrell.

Buddy the Elf doesn't fit in at the North Pole, mainly because he is, well, human.  He sets off to find his real father in Manhattan, and in so doing spreads Christmas cheer throughout the jaded city.  Buddy manages to make even hardened ex-cons believe that there is a Santa.

I love this movie because it speaks to the power of believing.  Come to think of it, maybe the entire Christmas season speaks to the power of believing–that there is a Santa, that the days will grow longer and spring will come again, that a great spiritual teacher and savior was born, that miracles can and do happen.

When my two children were little, Christmas loomed large–for them and for me.  They had huge expectations to fulfill every year, which was mostly my part, because I'd bought into making Christmas a big deal.  There were cookies to bake, advent calendars to fill, events to attend and be part of–like the church Christmas pageant–and long, endless want lists to toys to buy.  It was exhausting.  I often marveled that year after year, Christmas happened, that mothers ran themselves ragged putting on this display.  I wondered if one year we'd all rebel and Christmas wouldn't happen.

But we never did, and I think that was because of the magic of believing.  We believed in the magic of Christmas and wanted to share that with our families.  We wanted our children to believe in Santa Claus, to believe in the miracle of Jesus's birth.  And so we continued on with our Christmas craziness.  All because of the nature of belief.

I thought about all of this again as I watched Elf last weekend.  And I started thinking about the magic of believing about things other than Christmas.  Such as:

What would your life looked like if you believed fervently that you were capable of creating the life you wanted?

What would you be doing right now if you believed fully and completely in yourself?

And here's the most important one:

What dream do you have for 2010 that could use a little magic of belief behind it?

Let's all help each other believe in ourselves next year, okay?  I plan to start by investing fully in the magic of Christmas over the next couple weeks.

**While you're in dreaming and believing mode, sign up for a free coaching session that can help guide you toward accomplishing your goals.  Go here for all the details–I've added dates in January!



Practical Considerations for Journal Writing, Second in Series

Yesterday, in a post titled, Journaling, One Path to Writing Abundance, I began a series about, you Notebook_agenda_schedule_260757_l guessed it, journaling.  I wrote a bit about why I think journaling is valuable for a writing practice and how indispensable my journal is to me.

Today, before we go any further in this series, I want to talk about some journaling practicalities.

Don't let that word, "practicality," scare you, because this is actually the fun stuff, all about choosing the correct journal and pen with which to write.   You might, at this point, be balking just as much over the word, "correct," as you did over the word, "practicality." All of us creative types hate concepts like correct, and structure, and organization.

But in this case, I mean the correct journal for you.  The correct journal is the one that you fall in love with on the shelves of the store.  It is the one that makes you feel good every time you pick it up.  The journal it makes you happy to open.  The one that you love so much you will actually fill it with words.  

What works for me might not work for you at all.  What I love in a journal may be what you hate, or vice versa.  So take some time and try some different options out and see what you like best.  If you've tried journaling in the past and not taken to it, there's a chance that you weren't using the correct journal.  Honestly, it is that important.  Besides, whiling away the afternoon in an office supply store is almost as good as whiling away the afternoon at a bookstore.  Or, you could do both and pretend you are Christmas shopping.**

Here are my guidelines, the qualities that work for me:

  1. Lined paper.  I don't know, maybe I like structure more than I think.  The unlined pages are almost overwhelming to me.  Plus, they make me feel like I should be adding delicate sketches or artful doodles and I'm just not good at that.  So my journals are lined.
  2.  Spiral or soft binding.  I carry my journal with me everywhere and could as easily be perched by a stream (okay I made that up, because I'm not generally that outdoorsy) writing as near a table.  I need a journal I can balance on my knee and still write on easily.  Up until recently, I was an adamant defender of the cause that all journals should be spiral bound.  But then I became the last person on the planet to discover the Moleskine journal.  Its soft cover doubles back on itself easily and works fine to write on in various situations.  Another type of notebook that falls into this category is the good old composition book you can buy cheaply at any office supply store or stationery department.  They'll have lots of good spirals, too.  I still love me those spirals.
  3.  Size does matter.  I prefer the 5 by 8ish size, which is easy to stash in my purse or carry along.  Some of you may prefer a pocket size, which I find a bit confining, or the big desk size.  It is all about what works for you.
  4.  Um, I guess I don't have a fourth guideline.  Except to repeat what I said earlier: find what works best for you.  Experiment, play with the process.  Find a journal that makes you long to stop everything, open it up, and write!

Besides the journal itself, there is the matter of the pen, which is nearly as important.  Again, while some may prefer a bold tip, others may always go for the fine.  I went through a long phase of preferring a medium point but am not back to an obsession with the fine point.  Then there's color…while I have a long-standing preference for blue, it is harder to find than black.  Plus these days there are all those great sets of multi-colored pens you can buy.  When you find a pen you fall in love with, stock up on it immediately because, A. manufacturers stop making them for no reason I can tell, and B. pens are like socks and Legos, they disappear.

So that's it for journaling practicality.  Feel free to share what your favorite journal and pen are in the comments.  And stay tuned for the next installment (which, with luck, will be tomorrow) on journaling.

**Speaking of Christmas shopping, don't forget my free holiday gift to you this season–I'm giving away coaching sessions!  Totally and completely free, they are, with no strings of any kind attached.  Head on over here and check out the details.

Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

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I'm an inveterate journaler.  As a matter of fact, I'm certain the reason I'm a writer today is because of the fake red leather diary, complete with lock and key, that I got for Christmas when I was 8 or 9.  Unlatching it was so enticing–all those lined pages to be filled with words!  I've been journaling off and on ever since.

When, as a young adult I decided I wanted to be a writer, it was to my journal that I turned.  There, I scribbled notes for stories I didn't have time to write, accounts of the events and activities of my life, and entries about the joys and frustrations of being a mother.  Gradually, the time I spent writing lengthened out, and the journal expanded to personal essays and short stories.  Eventually, I returned to school to get my MFA, and now I make my living as a writer.   I'm fairly sure none of this would have happened without my trusty journal always at my side. 

So as you might guess, I'm a big fan of using journaling as part of a regular writing routine.  I've been thinking a lot about journaling the past few days, maybe because on these cold late-autumn days, curling up by a fire and writing away in my Moleskine feels like just the right thing to do.  I've also been thinking about it because journaling is an important aspect of the practice of creating, one of the seven practices of the prolific and prosperous writer. I'm writing about these practices for the Writing Abundance E-book I'm working on, and I also talk about them in my live workshops (the next one of which I'll be presenting in Nashville in January.  Go here for more info.)  So I decided I'd share some of my thoughts on journaling here.  And then I realized that I had way more material than would fit in one blog post.  So stay tuned for an ongoing series, which I'll post over the next few days.  (Um, that is, with a little bit of luck.  It is Christmas, after all, and I've barely begun my shopping.)

Let me start by listing  a few reasons why I think journaling is good for your writing:

  • Flow.  First and foremost, because committing to writing in a journal regularly keeps your flow going.  It teaches you to let loose and just write about your day, your dreams, or anything at all.
  • Momentum.  Writing in a journal regularly gives you a sense of momentum, and the realization that yes, you can do this thing called writing.
  • Ease.  Journaling teaches you to be facile with words.  The knowledge that you can put one word after another boosts your confidence.  And this skill is transferable to other projects.

I use my journal in many different ways and you'll literally always find me with it open by my side.  I use it for:

  • Lists
  • Notes on Projects
  • First Drafts
  • To-Do Lists
  • As a life chronology
  • Notes
  • Ideas
  • Things I've Overheard

As you can see, my journal is pretty much a mish-mash of collected words and uses, which is why its so valuable to me.  It contains my life in one location.  But nearly every day I also find time to write some sort of journal entry in it, and it is this practice that I find so valuable and what I want to talk about further.

In tomorrow's post I'll talk about the various kinds of journal entries I've identified: Morning Pages, The Whiney Emotional Outburst, Day Planning, and my favorite, all the variations on the Chronology.  See you then.

Free Coaching Sessions!

Oh, and don't forget that I'm offering free coaching sessions for writers.  Yes, free!  Honest!  Why not start 2010 right and get clear on your most important writing goals and what might be holding you back from them?  Step right up and claim your writing life.  Hop on over here and read all about it.  And email me for an appointment!

The Writing Life: Walking the Labyrinth

Writers are always looking for ways to boost their creative practice.  I know I am.  I collect writing exercises and creativity activities nearly as obsessively as I collect books.  Today I want to write about another excellent practice I've recently discovered: walking the labyrinth.

In a recent post, I mentioned my stint as the "book doctor" at Room to Write, a writing retreat held in Nashville. The retreat was held at the Scarritt-Bennett center.800px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_Cathedral Rabbi Rami Shapiro, the organizer and guiding light of the retreat, talked to us about the history of the labyrinth one very cold morning, and afterward guided us on a labyrinth walk.  I'd like to share a bit of that experience with you here. 

Most people hear the word labyrinth and think maze.  But a maze is a very different beast from a labyrinth.  Navigating a maze, your left brain is activated.  At each puzzling juncture, you are forced to make a choice or a decision as to which path to take to reach the center.  It is a problem-solving activity.

Conversely, there's only one choice to be made with the labyrinth: whether to enter or not.  (Isn't this a great metaphor for writing already?)  Because once you do make the choice to enter the labyrinth, there is only one way to go and your only job is to follow it.  Once you are on the writing path, you’ll need to trust that you are
exactly where you need to be.  You need to allow yourself to succumb
to the process of writing.

Once you set foot on the labyrinth, the way in is the way out.  Walking
the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to your deepest self and
returning again to the world with a more profound understanding of
yourself—and the words to share it.  This is the very process that the
writer repeats day by day, one word at a time onto the page.  The
labyrinth encourages a deep trust in the process, that surrendering to
it is not only okay, but desirable—something we often forget in our
organized, logical world.

A labyrinth is also a symbolic form of pilgrimage, and as writers we make pilgrimages to our deepest selves every day.  The labyrinth is an ancient form, with the first labyrinths being mentioned in Pliny's Natural History as being located in Crete, Egypt, and Italy.  Later adopted by Christians, they fell out of favor for many centuries but have recently been resurrected as a tool for spiritual, contemplative, transformational and creative paths.  Not surprisingly, they are incredibly useful for solving writing problems.

On that cold morning last week, as we walked the labyrinth at Scarritt-Bennett, Rami encouraged us to repeat a problem with our writing (or life) on the way in, pause in the center, and then ponder a possible answer on the way out.  Or, he said, you can just repeat a word such as peace or love or home.  I was quite taken with labyrinth walking and how useful it was to shaking free ideas.

One of the most famous labyrinths is at Chartres Cathedral in France, and many labyrinths are modeled in this style, including the one at Scarritt-Bennett.   Because of a recent surge in popularity, you’ll find labyrinths in many public places, including parks and churches, most of which are open to the public.  A quick internet search will find you a labyrinth in your area.    If you absolutely can’t find a labyrinth to walk, you can find finger labyrinths for sale on the internet, or perhaps at your new age bookstore.

I highly recommend it as a creative tool, to say nothing of a profound spiritual experience.  I've already scoped out a few labyrinths here in Portland, and plan to visit them as soon as possible.   Do any of you have experience walking the labyrinth?  Feel free to share.

PS.  Don't forget to sign up for my free coaching sessions for writers!  You can find out more about this offer here.  Please sign up!  I really want to talk to you!