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.

~  ~  ~

 

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?

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“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]

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