holidays

Keep Calm and Carry On With Your Writing

Xmas_christmas_christmas_227801_lRaise your hand if, with 13 days to Christmas you are overwhelmed.  Raise both hands if, with all the extra to-dos on your list, your writing is suffering.

I thought so.  Me, too.  There is shopping to finish, presents to wrap, decorating the house, writing Christmas cards, and on and on.  And even if you don't celebrate Christmas I'd wager that you still get caught up in the hoopla.  It's pretty impossible to escape.

But this is probably one of the most important times to write.  For one thing, this time of year, with its early dark, is always an incredibly creative time for me, with numerous ideas popping up.  It would be a shame to waste it.  And for another, if you give up on your writing now, all could be lost until the new year.  I speak from experience–this has happened to me.

So here's my advice: keep calm and carry on with your writing.

The whole "keep calm" thing has become a cliche, but it has a great origin.  Rumor has it that this is what the queen mother said during the blitz of London, when bombs were dropping all over the city every night.  Every freakin' night.  Go take a look at this map of how many bombs were dropped on the city from July 1940 and June 1941.  

And now tell me: does the stress of this holiday season equal the stress (not to mention utter terror) that Londoners felt during this time?

I didn't think so.

But how, exactly, to keep calm and keep writing?

For starters, remember that the calm part is like happiness–a choice.  You can choose to get all stressed out and dramatic about your life or you can do what writers have done forever–put all that drama on the page.   And remember, too, that throwing words on paper can be an incredible antidote to stress!  Write out your anger and frustration.  You'll feel better when you're done, I guarantee it.

It might also help to take the time to meditate, or walk, or do yoga or Qi Gong–whatever it is that calms and centers you.  It is very easy to not take the time for these activities when you're in the midst of an especially busy time.  (I'm writing to myself at the moment, I'll confess.  I had a great meditation routine going but its been a week a few days since I've done it.)

Creating calm is often a matter of making time for it.

Ah, but you say, how can I take time for creating calm when I barely have time to write?  The point is, you'll be better able to focus and get your writing done if you've spent a few minutes sitting quietly or taking a walk around the block.

And now, about that writing….um, yeah.  Do me a favor and keep in mind one thing: you don't have to write 5,000 words a day to make progress.  Perhaps it is time to lower your expectations for yourself.  Instead of 5,000 words a day, aim for 500. When you're in the thick of it, maybe 500 is even too much.  Go for having the time to look over your work and maybe make a note or two.

The point is, be easy on yourself.   Put it all in perspective.  Remind yourself that this too, shall pass.  And if things get really overwhelming, go look at that bomb map again.

How do you cope during the holidays? I'd love to hear.  Please leave a comment!

 

Are You Grumpy about Gratitude?

It is hard to talk about gratitude without sounding trite.

I mean, who hasn't heard Oprah talk about how important gratitude is, and how using it changed her life?  And with Thanksgiving (in the US) bearing down on us, chatter about gratitude is all over the place.

It's easy to get grumpy about gratitude.

It's also easy to get glib about it.  

And when you get grumpy and glib about something, odds are good you will no longer partake of it.  Which is a shame, because gratitude really does rock.

Here are some reasons why I think we tend to not rock gratitude and their antidote as well:

It can feel superficial, like you're just making crap up.  Which of course, you are (because we make up all our stories, the ones we write and the ones we tell ourselves about ourselves).  But who wants to waste their time on trivialities?

The antidote:  Keep going with the gratitude until you get to the deeper stuff–or you realize that you really are grateful for those little things (like hot water, I am grateful for hot water every morning, truly grateful).

It can feel like the booby prize, like you're just saying stuff because you're supposed to, when really your life totally sucks and you don't have anything to be grateful for.

The antidote: Do it anyway, because you really do have something to be grateful for–you're breathing aren't you?  Start wherever you can and keep going.  The thing is, we get what we concentrate on.  So if you're concentrating on lack, that's what you'll get more of.  

It can feel like it's not worth it.  Ah, humans.  So often we only do something when we think we're going to get something out of it.  We've been told that a practice of gratitude will enhance our lives, so we do it once and then when nothing happens, we stop.

The antidote: Do it for no reason.  Do it because you really are grateful.  Do it just because.  And then, when you're not looking and not expecting it, watch how good it makes you feel.  And, when you need help practicing gratitude, try this:

The And Avalanche

I was at a women's retreat this past weekend and the leader, Karen Drucker, told the story of her friend who likes to participate in an And Avalanche.  It goes like this:  you find something to appreciate, and then something else.  And then something else.  And so on.  So, you find yourself in line at the post office.  It's a long line, and moving slowly.  But you tell yourself how much you appreciate the color the walls are painted. And how pretty the jacket on the woman in front of you is.  And….and…and…until you have totally lifted your mood.  Pretty nifty, huh?

So here's something that will make you feel good all over–a video of the above-mentioned Karen Drucker singing "I'm So Grateful."  My favorite part is a few minutes in, where she sings "Gratitude Before Me" complete with hand motions.  Start your day with that every morning and see how you feel! 

How do you incorporate gratitude into your life?

How to Go Places That Scare You In Your Writing

Webcomics_webcomic_scary_449578_lThe Halloween spirit is in full swing at my house and all around the city.  I love decorating for Halloween, though I don't go nearly as all out as some of the places I see which feature scarecrows and witches and ghouls rising from tombstones.  Love it all!

Halloween is supposed to be frightening, with many people (not me) watching scary movies and wandering through graveyards or impenetrable corn mazes.  But I've been thinking about scaring yourself in a different way–through your writing.

Specifically, going to the places that scare you in your writing.

This may be writing about something bad that happened to you in your past, or writing a fight scene when you have an aversion to conflict. Maybe sunshine, lollipops and rainbows scare you (okay, I couldn't resist–see below for the video of that song.) 

Whatever it is that scares you, it is important to go there.  Why?  For a number of reasons.  Because once you get it out on the page, it won't scare you anymore.  Because there's fabulous gold to be mined in the scary places (stories are nothing without conflict).  Because if you're not going there, you're probably not putting your true self on the page.

But how do you go there, when it's too scary?  Below, find some of my best tips for doing so.

1.  Cultivate uncertainty.  We all assume that we know with certainty what's going to happen tomorrow.  We'll get up, go to work, come home, have dinner.  But we don't really know that for sure. You might wake up sick and not go to work.  Or get out to the car and it doesn't start so you decide to take the day off.  Instead of clamping down on this (i.e., feeling you must exert control), learn to live in the knowledge that nothing is certain.

2. Make Friends With Discomfort.  When I flew to Paris by myself this summer, I was nervous. When last I was in France, the people were, um, there's no tactful way to say it…they were rude.  I don't speak the language, either (well, haltingly).  Finally, I realized I was afraid of my own discomfort.  I'm not rich, but I live a pretty cushy life compared to most of the world, and I reckon that most of you reading this can say the same thing.  We don't have to experience discomfort very often, and thus we protect ourselves from it.  So, instead of running from it, go towards it, especially in your writing.  (And by the way, I found the French people absolutely lovely this time around.)

3.  Free Write Lavishly.  Getting into that space where you are not really thinking but your hand is moving across the page is the best way to get into the scary places.  Once more with feeling, the way you free write is set a timer, begin with a prompt, and then have it–let your hand move across the page without stopping.  Did you get that last part?  Without stopping, even if you are writing one word over and over again.  It's this constant movement of the hand that accesses the deep parts of the unsconsious.  Oh, and don't worry about sticking to the subject of the prompt.  It is just there to get you started.

4.  Keep it Private.  Remember that just because you are writing the scary stuff down, it doesn't mean you have to share it with anyone.  Nobody has to read your journal entry, your halting attempts to write that scary scene, the episode of your memoir.  You might eventually get it polished enough and feel brave enough to share it, but that's in the future.  Right now, it's just you and the pen and the paper and neither one of them is going to talk.

5.  Trust the Process.  As a wise soul (maybe Emerson, but don't quote me on that) once said, "The only way out is through."  Yeah, it's true.  You've got to walk through the fire to get to the other side, and if you go around it, you don't get the same benefits.  You get to stay stuck and so does your writing.  And we don't want that, do we?  You will survive writing about the scary things.  Nobody has ever died from writing in private in their own little room.

So there you have it–my recommendations for getting to the scary places.  And here's that video (you can thank me when you wake up singing this song tomorrow):

How do you get yourself to write about the scary places?

 

Photo by I'm Fantastic, used under Creative Commons 2.5.

Happy New Year and Welcome 2013

Firework_fireworks_night_229277_lI'm probably about the last one to say it to you, but Happy New Year. 

Here's what I'm hoping for this year (in no particular order):

–snow

–a successful book release

–health, happiness, safety and success for my loved ones

–that I continue to enjoy a deep journaling practice every morning

–that I make good on my commitment to write at least one hour a day

–that I get to spend lots of happy times with family and friends

–success and happiness for my wonderful clients and students

–shaking lose a few pounds

–expanding outlets for my writing

–continued spiritual studies

–success and happiness for my wonderful blog readers

–a literary agent

–that all of us remember to replace fear with love

That's my list.  I'll probably add more as the year goes on.  What's on your list? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

PS–If you're in the mood for some more fun reading on this lazy New Year's Day, check out my friend Doni's post here.

Image by brokenarts.