Tag Archives: writing

Love affairs

I once took a sick day from a temp job because I was reading a book I loved so much I literally could not put it down. That was in my 20’s and the job was in an office, for a bank, nothing I was passionate about, though it paid the bills.

Lately I have been toying with the idea of writing fiction, and there is a story that I have begun getting down on paper, a few paragraphs here & there in my journal. There are a few characters forming in my consciousness, and it is a “road not taken” kind of story perhaps relating to aspects of my own life. But the characters are distinct from me, and seem to have minds of their own.

I’ve been considering how to get more time for my writing. Even though I have not interviewed yet for a position that is kind of exciting to me, I worry that a new job means I would have to focus more on that work, and less on my own creative endeavors. Then I remember the advice that Liz Gilbert gave to a writer during her podcast “Magic Lessons.”  It was to “have an affair” with her art, which in her case was painting.

She explained that people who are having affairs, despite having busy lives, somehow find a way to fit those steamy encounters into their lives. The affair provides a nuclear energy boost, and even though it is not front and center in terms of one’s time and one’s external priorities. Sneaking away to do this thing is delicious and exciting. And our creativity has a desire to have an affair with us.

This feels like where my writing resides right now, in that “stolen” morning time before I get myself ready for work. It is sort of a sacred time for me, and while I keep up the appearance of a “normal” life on the surface, I like having this other aspect of me. I do not share it with everyone (or in the case of this fiction, anyone), and yet it excites me.

When I stopped doing a daily post for a while, thinking I would give myself more time, I actually struggled with getting the energy to get my “regular” things done. While I know I do not have to post publicly every day, but then I *DO* need to generate my work anyway. Because it sustains me and thrills me.

There is some part of me that knows that if it were the main event in my life, it would not feel this exciting and thrilling. Keeping a life that sustains me, and work that pays well, as long as it is not too all-consuming, allows me to find excitement and spark during these stolen moments with words, color and creativity. And perhaps that is why it is so appealing, because it is a treat I give to myself.

Are you having an affair with your art? Do you sneak in the time no matter what else is going on? I would love to hear if this concept resonates with you. 

 

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What’s your One Thing?

Yesterday I took an opportunity during my monthly operations meeting to present to my team a concept I had discovered that intrigues me, from The One Thing by Gary Keller.

In preparing for the presentation, I realized that I can indulge my love for teaching and training in my current job. It was totally fun to prepare, and I enjoyed challenging my team with a new idea. It was a bit of a risk, and I had not discussed it with my director first. But he has been open to my creative streak, and when I finished (in about 20 minutes) he actually came up with the perfect picture to capture the idea of what we do now, versus what we might prefer to do.

one man band

“One man band” – photo taken in March 2018 by my boss

What is perfect about the photo is that it showed empathy for the struggle of my teammates, and it illustrated the point I had made during the presentation.

The basic idea of the book is that we need to work on ONE thing at a time, sequentially rather than simultaneously to achieve extraordinary results. When we multi-task or spin in a list of to-do’s that has no main priority, we dilute the focus and the quality of our work. So the book has a number of suggestions for how we drill down from our “someday goal” to a 5-year, then one year, monthly, weekly and daily goal.

We are asked to use a focusing question: “What’s the one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

This can be applied to goals at work, in relationships, goals for your physical health, personal life, money and business. You use it both on a temporal level: “what’s the one thing this week, or today or in this moment…” Then you plan time blocks on a daily basis so you get your one thing done first, before you slide off into more shallow work, like answering emails, attending meetings and other tasks.

Nothing should distract you from your one thing until it is done. Those time blocks can be protected. This is similar to the concept of Deep Work, by Cal Newport.

After I concluded, I asked the team: How can we apply the concept of “The One Thing” to the work we do every day? A couple of them had some ideas, and one had a great example. One thought it would be very hard to do this in the world we live in now, which was when my boss pulled out that great photo. We often feel like “one man bands” in our group, serving so many business units.

I believe the concept has merit, and though we a.d.d.-oid folks struggle with doing just one thing at a time, and many need to have shorter “time blocks” than the average person, I know when I do it well, I generate amazing results. I like to think of my one thing right now as my morning writing practice. When I do it, I feel a nice surge of energy, and that makes the rest of my day more productive as well.

What’s your ONE THING? Or if you prefer a more focused question: What’s your One Thing today?

Happy Friday, amigos!

 

Energy and resistance

I recently decided to cut myself some slack in not posting as often on my blog, giving myself Tuesdays and Thursdays off my internal obligation to write, so that I could free up time to work on a few other things, like my coaching homework.

Observations so far:
  • Yesterday I felt an urge to fill my usual writing time with media input instead, in the form of podcasts and audio books. I had a hard time turning these off as I was getting ready for the day. It’s like I was trying to get a cheap thrill rather than the nourishment I usually feel in writing.
  • I had a lot less energy for work-related stuff, and even for coaching homework. I felt like something was missing; I sensed a loss of what gives me a zip of energy in the morning, the process of creating something complete, even if short, and publishing it.
  • I had a sense of dragging myself through the day, trying to “bribe” myself to do work, but not managing to stay very focused.  Usually I have a lot of meetings scheduled on Tuesdays, and this time, I only had one. There may be a certain calm before the storm at work, as it is close to fiscal year end for us (April).
  • I did some hand-written journalling throughout my day as I tried to get myself out of this “funk” but it just seemed to weigh me down further. Yuck.
  • I procrastinated on things I wanted to get done, rather than tackling them right away in the morning like I usually do. There was a lot of thinking and noodling around, and some research, but it did not feel very satisfying, and I did not complete anything on my list. Lot of of unsatisfying starting and stopping rather than follow-through…

Conclusion: Sometimes time is not the relevant variable in our day. The energy we bring to a task is just as relevant, and the resistance we feel toward doing some tasks can be very draining. I realize that even though I had blocked off time to do the necessary things I’d planned to do, I just didn’t get the “oomph” needed to do them. Maybe it was just a bad day. This is very atypical for me, and when I get going in the morning, I am able to knock a bunch of things off my list by noon, giving me proper momentum in a day.

The other possible factor: I have been procrastinating at completing the budget and finance piece of my coaching homework. I know this is dragging me down as well. Last August I purchased a “Money Clarity” course – there were 10 lessons space over the course of a month. I did the “easy 6” and skipped the 4 hard lessons. It’s time to come back to those now. There is no way I am going to figure out my “next big thing” without getting very comfortable with my money management.
Much as my “inner brat” likes to throw a tantrum rather than work on this, it is time to face the facts and live and spend more consciously, rather than throwing my money away or spending frivolously instead of intentionally. I have done this close and intentional observation work before on food. Like Geneen Roth says in her book Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money many of the principles are the same, but they take hard work at first, until they become more regular habits. It is time!
While it is natural to feel resistance to change, sometimes our long-term well-being depends on it.

Ending a streak

Yesterday (Tuesday) I took a break from writing my blog. We had just returned from vacation, arriving home late on Monday night. I slept in, letting my body recover from travel. The night before I’d had a brain-churning, processing kind of night in considering what I had learned at my conference, and what actions I will take next.

For over 6 months I had posted every day, to the point where it may have become a tad obsessive. I always have *something* to write about, and this morning writing routine gives me an energy boost, so I kept at it. But in mindfully choosing to spend some morning time on extra rest, meditation and some reading, I opted to free myself from the self-imposed obligation to post each day.

Some readers are probably saying: thank you! You don’t need to clutter our inboxes with your stuff! Most probably won’t notice. I know I cannot read ALL the blogs that I follow every day. My commitment to personal writing remains strong. My intention for the next month or two is to rest Tuesdays and Thursdays, to give some pauses to my week, and to work on some bigger projects, plans and coaching homework in the meantime. I will re-evaluate in June or so, to see if the change in season brings about a needed change in the rhythm of my weeks.

This feels like a good compromise to get my “writing fix” regularly but to allow more space and time for a bigger transition that is emerging in my life. It also reflects some learning from Liz and Martha at our recent workshop: this next phase of change in human consciousness is not about constant striving. Materialism and rampant consumerism are destroying our planet. The next transformation of consciousness is about joy and rest. Writing is joyful for me, and I also think there is an art to constraint and containment that can help our “next big thing” emerge.

That is where I will invest time next. Thanks for reading and for your support of my writing endeavors. I truly appreciate your feedback and encouragement!

Sedona two monuments

Another view from Sedona, Arizona, taken on April 8, 2018.

Constraint

In this big, wide world with so many channels, choices and chatter, it can be hard to find our focus and stick to one main goal. I really struggle with this intention. I like to take on a lot of new things, but then sometimes I find that they “pile up” and start to crowd my life, in a way.

I generally try to put a constraint around things like the blog, for example. I give myself a limited amount of time each morning 30-45 minutes, to write the content. Sometimes if I am looking for photos to add, it can take up to an hour. But I try to make sure there is a limit. I could literally spend hours writing if I allowed it (and maybe someday I will), but I have a “regular” job. At least today that’s what allows me to pay my bills and not strangle my creativity by trying to make it pay.

As I near my 200th post (this Saturday!) I am considering whether to impose another constraint, to help me focus on larger projects that have been scratching at my consciousness. Since October 1st I have been posting daily here. Sunday is a haiku and it is short and sweet, though I cannot always resist 2 or 3 verses. And Saturday has become a blog share day, to pass along some love to other blogs I have discovered and enjoyed. So in a way, I already imposed some constraints that helped me find writing rhythm in my week.

I truly enjoy this daily ritual, writing whatever I happen to be thinking about each morning. So I hesitate to pull it back. It has given me structure and focus, and even when I have had to travel for work, I planned ahead and made sure to plan short posts sometimes scheduled for while I would actually be on an airplane.

There is a little thrill when we hit the “publish” button (do you get that too?) and our work goes out into the world. Even though I try not to get caught up with how many “likes” or “views” any particular piece has, I sometimes do consider it. Truly it fascinates me, which topics resonate with people, not always predictable and often a surprise for me.

Now that I have had some time to develop a regular writing practice, though, I strive for a bit more focus on some longer and “meatier” pieces, perhaps to submit to publications. I told my husband: I have a book in me (or three) and I would like to consider whether that is my ultimate goal. I sense a transition in my own creativity, and may need to constrain one area of my writing, so I can generate greater focus on another part. So again I toy with a frequency that will work for me.

When I imagine cutting back to once a week, as many bloggers do, I get this “muzzled” feeling which I do not like. I then consider 3 or 4 times a week as a reasonable limit. It allows for me to get my blog “fix” and generate some short(ish) pieces as warm-up writing and to keep myself loose. But it also allows for those other mornings when I can assign the time to a few project ideas that are longer and more involved, that require some editing and polishing.

Are there areas in your life where you recognize constraint helps you focus? Do you struggle as much as I do when you first consider cutting something out to make room for other things? I would love to hear about your experiences with this in the comments.

Done is Better than Good

Right now I am preparing to work on a few cover letters for some jobs I already applied for at my current company. The application process does not actually require them, but I believe that it is probably best to explain what interests me about these positions, and why I see myself as the best fit for them.

I am re-listening to Liz Gilbert’s wonderful book, Big Magic. She has a chapter on avoiding the trap of perfectionism, and making sure we complete our work. I love this book so much, and if you ever suffer during your creative moments, it is a must-read. I love her way of describing the beautiful gift of creative practice, this wonderful ability we humans have to engage with our gifts.

In the past, I have sometimes not completed things like job applications, a sort of failure ahead of time, convinced the result would not be good enough. Really what I was responding to was my inner “chicken,” the voice of fear that nearly all of us have (but some have overcome it more effectively) that avoids risk and seeks reward. There is no shame in realizing we have this voice. Risk aversion is a developmental necessity to keep us safe from threats, but sadly, we over-generalize it at some point in our lives.

The only way to overcome it is to practice acting despite our fears, realizing that everything we produce will have some imperfection, and yet putting it out there anyway. It helps if we can constrain the time we work on it, or give ourselves deadlines “ahead of time” so that if final polishing is necessary, we allow adequate time. But sometimes that is not practical, or there are enough other things clamoring for our attention, that if we waited for the ideal, we would never get there.

So I will keep this relatively short, and allow some time to write these cover letter while it is early and I still have optimal morning focus. Two of them will be relatively easy to write: I am very interested in those positions and one excites me greatly even though it is a stretch. The other two may be a little more tricky, since they are more “exploratory’ in nature, and I want to learn more about the positions, and am not necessarily sold on them.

What is it that you are putting off because you do not think it will be “good enough?” 

I will end with a quote from Liz Gilbert in Big Magic (p 177):

“You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.”

Exercising my writing muscles

There are benefits to exercising our writing muscles!

On Friday I worked on a first draft of a 2-page case study proposal for an application to the “Entrepreneur-in-Residence” program in my company’s business incubator division. I am totally jazzed about the opportunity, 2-3 positions open for this 12-18 month commitment. It is a chance to work with teams using human-centered design in order to solve health care problems in under-served and under-resourced areas of the world.

This gig is designed as a program manager role that will eventually continue with a project at the end of the period if it has potential for commercial development, or move onto another leadership role within the company upon completion. With the networks and contacts I would have following such an opportunity, even though there are no guarantees, I am all in!

When opportunities like this have come along in the past, I typically read the materials and then spent weeks agonizing about what to write, putting it off until only a few days before the due date. This time around, I took a couple of hours without distractions and just banged out a first draft of my thoughts. Yep, I put down some “B minus work” to get my initial thoughts out of my head.

I am sure when I go back in a couple of days to look at it, I will have different insight. I will likely revise quite a bit of the first draft. Plus I started in the afternoon and I am sharper in the morning, so I know I can rework and possibly re-organize the writing. Since I was not familiar with the disease state or the country where the issue was identified, I had to do some initial research on the web. Once I have a chance to fully explore the questions that I footnoted for myself, I am sure I will enhance the draft.

I am proud of myself, since I stepped outside my usual habit of obsession and worry, and just got down to work right away. I am sure there will be SOME obsessing and worrying as I complete the first application (I cannot simply be someone ELSE). But it is progress to me that I started early this time, so there is plenty of time to polish and reconsider in the next couple of weeks. I plan to turn this one in at least a week in advance and to ask a peer to read through the draft.

So this daily blog “exercise” is proving to help me in an unexpected way. I am getting used to getting the words down on paper first, so I can have adequate time also to “marinate” my thoughts while my subconscious goes to work in the background on creative approaches to the problem presented. Writing can always be revised. Indeed, for professional writing that is probably a good idea. Given past habits of procrastination on writing projects, this is good progress for me.

To me, that is worth celebrating. Hope you take action today on a project that has meaning for you! Cheers!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, Readers.

To those who celebrate other holidays, I wish you happy celebrations also. I am taking a break from writing for a couple of days while I am up north with family, hopefully recovering from my cold.

I just wanted to thank you for reading and giving me feedback on my writing. Your likes,  comments and questions really help me understand and hone my ideas.

To those of you who blog, I am grateful to have learned about you through WordPress! What a gift it has been to discover an online tribe of people with so much wisdom and generosity.

Namaste.