Not a Resolution

Many people begin a new year with resolutions … fresh goals, usually focused on some kind of self improvement. Unfortunately, statistics say that more than half of resolutions fail by February. Personally, I abandoned even making resolutions many years ago.

It’s not that I don’t have any ambitions, but making a resolution is like making a promise to myself — one I know from experience I’m not likely to keep. If I have goals in mind, I’m more likely to pursue them as ‘intentions’ rather than ‘resolutions’. Intentions suggest a desire more than a promise. A desired goal is less intimidating than a promised one. I’ve talked about this in an earlier post.

While I was working on a New Year’s post for our church website I came across an article on the GoSkills website that offered ideas for ways to make goals more attainable:

  • Prepare for change by taking a personal inventory. Evaluate what you’ve realistically been able to accomplish (or not) in the past. Recognize your limitations.
  • Write each goal on a separate sticky note, then arrange and rearrange the notes on a handy surface in order of priority until one emerges as a manageable goal that will inspire you toward achievement.
  • Break up your goal into specific manageable chunks. For example, instead of losing fifty pounds in 2020, set mini-goals of five or ten pounds per month, and celebrate each milestone.
  • Write down your goals, share them with supportive friends/family, and document your progress. This will help keep you on track.

Do you have goals for 2020? Things you’d like to accomplish or maybe even intend to do? How do resolutions work for you? How do you get the tasks done?

One of my main intentions this year is to make inroads into the boxes of family and historical photos that fill a corner of my office. They’ve accumulated there because I didn’t want to put them back downstairs where they’d be out of sight, out of mind again. I thought if I had to keep looking at those boxes I wouldn’t be able to ignore them. Wrong! Now they’ve become such a permanent fixture that I take their presence for granted. I don’t even see them anymore! I’m going to have to make a concerted effort to tackle the job. I have empty albums; I have scissors, paper cutter, archive quality pens and glue. I just need to s-t-a-r-t.

I guess saying it here constitutes writing it down and telling my family and friends, doesn’t it? Gulp.

Well, I DO intend to make a start and hopefully get the task completed before year end. Note that’s an intention, not a resolution, but I’ll ‘document my progress’ and report in here periodically, and then we’ll just see how it goes. Okay?

(I think this is called ‘Documentation #1’)

~ ~ ~

Preparing to Write

I’m with Aristotle, at least when it comes to creative achievement: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I’ve learned from years of experience that making them sets me up for failure and discouragement.

So it is with my writing; I’m not likely ever going to change my natural creative rhythms. I’ve learned that working with them is more productive than fighting to overcome them.  Identifying my optimum writing time was an important discovery. I’m definitely not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me: my brain takes a long time to wake up. So I’ve accepted that mornings are better used for devotions, journalling, and/or social media.

My best time to write is in the evening … the late evening. When the day’s routines are over and the house is quiet, nothing needs me except my manuscript. There are no time constraints so if the words don’t flow quickly, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is around to pressure me. In the blackness beyond the windows, the world sleeps. At least, most of it does.

There are the occasional late night visitors, but, while admittedly they’re a distraction, they don’t create much of a disturbance.

I don’t write as long into the night as I once did — the older I get the more sleep I seem to need — but I can still produce more words in an hour after midnight than I can during a daytime hour.

Location is important, too. I need a quiet place so I can hear the voices in my head. (Did I just admit to hearing voices???) I have a well-equipped office where I can close the door if need be, but the recliner in our family room usually draws me at night. Part of the problem in my office is the clutter. I can’t seem to be creative if my space (or my mind) is full of unrelated messiness, and my office usually is.

Decluttering is probably my single most effective aid to writing. I’d do it more often except one thing leads to another when it comes to my office, and I could spend the entire day in there, trying to organize the piles of paper, books and photos. Setting a time limit on tidying or any other preliminary activity would help, but when I’m in the mood to write it’s far easier to choose a location that doesn’t require preparation. Hence, the family room wins at night.

LL Barkat has a recent post that inspired me to think more about mental decluttering. (Simple tricks to make space for your writing) I think I’ll head back over there and reread it. I could use some extra inspiration today. How about you?

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Happy New Year: 2019

This morning’s snowfall didn’t last all that long, but it seemed appropriate for the start of a new year. There’s something fresh and hopeful about a landscape blanketed in pristine softness. It’s akin to beginning a brand new journal, opening a calendar to the first of twelve untouched months, or stepping onto a beach where the outgoing tide has left the sand shiny and smooth, waiting for fresh footprints.

a beginning
filled with
unspoken promises
of new opportunities

Wishing you the exhilaration of a fresh start.

~

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.”

[Jeremiah 29:11]


“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind

and straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal…”
[Philippians 3:13–14)

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After the decorations come down…

I started this post a few days ago, and then decided my first priority was a post for my church’s website. Its title ended up being the same as the one I’ve used here, although the content is totally different. It’s prompted here by the current mess that surrounds me.

This is just one small area — just the loveseat in our family room. You have to imagine beyond the green storage bin on the coffee table to the other seven bins and assorted cardboard boxes also waiting to be filled.

Decorations aren’t what Christmas is all about, of course, but I still enjoy the cheer and sparkle of the seasonal decorations. Even more than how they look, I like the nostalgia and the memories they evoke.

If you had peeked in my windows on a December evening (but I’m glad you didn’t; that would be creepy), you’d likely have found me in the semi-darkness, sitting by the fireplace and squinting at the tree lights to exaggerate their sparkle. It’s pure magic! It takes me back to the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmasses.

We begin decorating the house at the start of Advent and reluctantly begin un-decorating after Epiphany…the Twelfth Night of Christmas. Unfortunately, since our preference is for natural rather than artificial greenery, the life of our tree is limited. After a month indoors, even with regular watering, the needles begin parting company with branches. It’s time.

So the tree is down (it will be chipped and recycled), the decorations are being packed away and the New Year is under way. What now? First is always the replacing of furniture and a thorough vacuuming. (It doesn’t matter how thorough, we’ll still find fir needles in odd places next summer!)

This is the point when melancholia at the bare decor conflicts with joy at the lack of clutter. Everything looks so clean, but I find myself rearranging furniture, switching artwork, maybe adding a new plant — whatever it takes to compensate for the perceived sterility.

Sometimes … sometimes, that means picking new paint colours. I often wondered why we always seemed to tackle renovations in the winter months. Now that’s beginning to make sense. I’m not sure what this year’s project is going to be, but stay tuned. Now that the decorations are down and packed away, I’m taking a good look around.

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2016 and My ‘One Word’

We’re into another New Year, and I wish you a good one. Not everything we experience in 2016 is likely to be happy, but it can still be a good year, can’t it? A lot depends upon our perspective … our focus.

Unfortunately, I don’t always focus on the right things.

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Sometimes I’m not even looking in the right direction.

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I haven’t made New Year’s Resolutions for umpteen years; not since the realization that I rarely kept them, and thus proclaiming them only set me up for failure and humiliation. But I don’t go into the New Year without intending to accomplish certain things. (Intending is much more forgiving than resolving!)

Some years ago I discovered the ‘One Word‘ phenomenon, and each year since then have found a particularly meaningful word on which to focus. The word that has thrown itself into my path for 2016 is… ta da! FOCUS.

I really need better focus in my spiritual life, in my daily tasks, and in my writing, so it’s the perfect word choice for this new year. Hopefully it will provide the clarity I so badly need.

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(Pine Grosbeaks, with a few Common Redpolls in the background)

Is the New Year providing you with a new sense of focus? How are you challenging yourself?

~  ~  ~

‘Tis Christmastime

The winter solstice happened this week. The shortest day of the year is now behind us.

We spent several hours on the road Monday, transitioning from the damp and balmy west coast into the brisk and snowy east Kootenays. There is no doubt we’ll be having a white Christmas.

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As the sun slowly appeared over the mountain beside our daughter’s home, we marvelled once again at the exceptional beauty of God’s creation.

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Outside the family room window there is a patio bordered by trees, and every day dozens of birds arrive, flitting from the branches to feast on what they obviously consider a gourmet granola meal that is always provided for them. On our first morning here I counted nine different species in less than an hour!

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Pine Grosbeak)

(Common Redpolls)

(Common Redpolls)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Red-breasted Nuthatch & Common Redpoll)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Downy Woodpecker)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Black-capped Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Mountain Chickadee)

(Steller's Jay)

(Steller’s Jay)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Pileated Woodpecker)

(Grey Jay)

(Grey Jay)

God provides for all of his creatures … these birds, and us. It’s Christmastime — in fact, today is “Christmas Eve Day” — and we’re full of praise and thankfulness for Him who was born this night to provide for us and our salvation.

~

The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[Luke 1:35]

~

(I’ll be taking a break from blogging next week. I wish each of you a joy-filled Christmas, and a New Year filled with good health and many blessings.)

~  ~  ~

A Writer’s New Year

The last candle on the Advent wreath has been lit. We’re half way through the Twelve Days of Christmas and coming face-to-face with the New Year.

There are so many bloggers posting about New Year’s resolutions that I hesitate to even mention the subject. Every year I tell you that I don’t make resolutions because I can’t face the idea of setting myself up for failure.

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But the year is almost over. This is my last post of 2014, and it feels like I should be sharing something of significance, especially since this is also my 965th post since I began here six years ago. 965!!! The trouble is, six years of blogging hasn’t necessarily been the valuable learning experience I expected.

It’s given me lots of practice, but amassing quantities of words doesn’t produce quality writing any more than long hours practising an incorrect tune on the piano produces the perfect song. Repetition simply reinforces a habit, bad or good.

During Sunday’s sermon it did my heart good to hear my son-in-law say he likes Mondays because no matter how badly he might have ‘screwed up’ the week before, Monday provides a clean slate, an opportunity for a fresh start.

You’ve heard me say many times how much I like Mondays, too, and I like the New Year for some of the same reasons. I don’t have to make a fresh start, but the opportunity is there. Of course, before the desire to do so takes hold, evaluating the status quo has to happen. That’s what the year end is for.

As writers, how do we evaluate the status quo?

  • Has our life changed for the better? Each of us will have various standards against which we measure our progress, improvement, or achievement. In each case, however, forward momentum is desirable. If we’re still in the same place we were at this time last year, still going through the same motions and offering the same explanations and excuses, we’re likely stagnating.
  • Are we satisfied/content with what we’re doing? Success can mean different things to different people. While some of us might daydream about a lucrative publishing contract, even if that were possible, the reality is that few are ambitious enough to put in the required effort. And that’s okay. Just because a person loves to write doesn’t mean being on a best sellers’ list has to be the destination. There are many outlets for creative writing, from composing letters of encouragement to shut-ins, to creating online devotionals or how-to articles. Discovering our niche and taking pleasure in it is a worthwhile achievement.
  • If a published book is our goal, are we taking appropriate steps to make it happen? Have we studied the craft of writing and what the constantly-changing publishing industry requires? Are we writing regularly, finishing what we start, getting our work critiqued and/or edited, researching and querying effectively, building a platform? Or are we only online, reading blogs, talking about writing and enjoying the social media experience? (Hey, I’m happy you’re here, but I know how easy it is to hop from one site to another and get nothing else done.) 

As writers, how should we move into the coming year?

  • Understand what’s needed to achieve desires and goals. If we’re already under contract, there are expectations and guidelines. Some will have specific edit deadlines. We need to have a realistic understanding of how many words we can produce or revise in a day or week, and the working conditions we require to meet those deadlines. Idealizing isn’t our friend. We need to know our abilities and limitations.
  • Stop procrastinating. A writer’s worst nightmare is procrastination. Yes, some of us work faster when we’re under pressure, but the resulting stress and long hours of work can make us crazy. (People think we’re a little crazy to begin with, but we don’t need to fuel their delusion.) If we’re waiting to finish a character sketch, or complete some research before we start writing, we may never get beyond that stage. We have to push out of the rut and get going… get the first draft done. There will be time later to revise and develop the story, but there’s nothing to edit on a blank page.
  • Become a list-maker. Don’t indulge in vague goals. Itemize specific plans on paper, put the list in a visible place, and check off tasks as they are accomplished. Seeing the results materialize will help boost our morale and fuel our drive to do more.

Notice how I haven’t mentioned ‘resolutions’? They don’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to move ahead with my writing goals. Desire and intent are great motivators as long as they’re combined with action. 

What’s one thing you want/plan to achieve in 2015?

~  ~  ~

“Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday.”

[Don Marquis]

~

“Turning pro is a mindset.
If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage,
procrastination, self-doubt, etc.,
the problem is,
we’re thinking like amateurs.
Amateurs don’t show up.
Amateurs crap out.
Amateurs let adversity defeat them.
The pro thinks differently.
He shows up, he does his work,
he keeps on truckin’, no matter what.”

[Steven Pressfield]

~  ~  ~

What will this New Year mean for your writing?

It begins again… this cycle of seasons bundled into the whirlwind called Time.  We’re perched on the cusp of 2013, wondering how the past year – for me it’s more like the past decade – could have swirled away so quickly.

The last page of the 2012 calendar will fall away tonight. There’s a new calendar underneath, ready to take its place. Other than that, what’s likely to change around here? Probably not much.

The New Year is considered an ideal time for new beginnings but I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do Resolutions. I can’t see the point of setting myself up for failure by promising to do things I haven’t been able to accomplish during the past twelve months. But not making resolutions doesn’t mean I can’t make fresh starts.

Last week my DD Shari Green posted a Saturday Snapshot on her blog, sharing a photo of crocuses and suggesting the year’s end “is a time of metaphorical crocuses and fresh green growth and signs of life. It is a time of hope.”  I like the metaphor. While my crocuses won’t be visible for a while, the Hellebores buds are showing already and I expect the snowdrops will be close behind. They’re always an early reminder that despite blustery winter weather, a new season is on its way.  As Shari says, there are signs of hope out there.

Last spring's Helleborus orientalis blooms

Last spring’s Helleborus orientalis blooms

I need that hope in my writing life. It’s been as cyclic as the seasons. All year I’ve waffled between determination and doubt, enjoying my storytelling efforts while wondering if I’m wasting my time… one week believing the words have potential and the next convinced they’re total drivel. Then I came upon a comment by Nathan Bransford:

“Terror and joy. Confidence and self-doubt.
The best artists live right in that uncomfortable middle.”

He was referring to a talk by Ben Silbermann, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest, who mentioned that “even after all the success he has had with Pinterest he lives at the intersection of terror and joy.” Nathan went on to explain how that also applies to writing: you have to be brave and confident, willing to risk putting your words out into the world because you believe in them. “But you also have to be self-critical enough to edit your work and fear failure and be worried that your best might not be good enough, which pushes you just that much further. You have to be scared of what will happen if you don’t do your best. You can’t ever get comfortable. Terror and joy. Confidence and self-doubt. The best artists live right in that uncomfortable middle.

I gleaned encouragement and hope from those words. In the New Year I’m going to remember it’s okay to waffle… to teeter occasionally on the edge of uncertainty… as long as I don’t let it discourage me, but rather, make it feed my determination to produce better writing.

How about you? How do you feel as you get ready to launch into a New Year of writing? Hopeful? Fearful? Or…?

~

“Rejoice in your hope,
be patient in tribulation,
be constant in prayer.”

Romans 12:12 [RSV]

~  ~  ~

So, how’s your writing journey going?

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Sometimes it’s clear sailing, and sometimes… um, it’s not.

During our December travels we encountered all kinds of weather. For the most part, the roads were good. On the homeward portion of the trip, as we left Cranbrook, BC, we traveled north for a time in a trench between two mountain ranges. It was a glorious day!

To the east of the highway were the rugged Rocky Mountains

… while to the west were the Purcell Mountains.

Eventually we had to leave the easy-to-navigate valley highway and turn west. The remainder of our trip was through the mountains … sometimes literally, via tunnels or snow sheds that are designed to deflect avalanches.

From the summit of the Coquihalla highway south through the Cascade Mountains  the weather began to change again, the road conditions were conflictingly described as “bare, snow packed, some slippery sections” and we drove through snow and slush until we got closer to the coast where rain washed everything slick and shiny. Driving was anything but a pleasure.

My recent Christmas trip has comparisons to my writing journey. Any objective, whether a holiday destination, a writing goal or picking a tree clean of its crop, requires some kind of journey. Success first requires desire – we have to want that ‘something’ badly enough to pursue it, regardless of the obstacles. Then there has to be forward momentum.

On the Magical Words blog yesterday Kalayna Price said, When the words are flowing and the muse is generous, writing is easy, sometimes even euphoric. But when the writing gets tough and every word has to be dragged out with jagged, rusty hooks – that is when you have to apply BIC [butt in chair] and slough through it.”

The beginning of a new year is often a time of re-evaluation. For me, it’s also a time of recommitment. My goal hasn’t changed but too often detours have sidetracked me.  The journey itself brings satisfaction but every journey needs to have a destination to fulfill its purpose. It’s time to settle my butt in the driver’s seat and start chalking up the miles.

How about you? We’re almost a week into this New Year. Have you made measureable progress on your 2012 journey?

 ~

“By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”  [Philippians 3:14 MSG]

~  ~  ~