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.

DSC08509

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

IMG_2774

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.

DSC07653

DSC07918

(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.

DSC07539

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.

IMG_2723

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.

photo 3

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?

.
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]

~  ~  ~

Starting Again

.

Here we go again! It’s a brand new year and everyone we know seems to be wishing us a Happy New Year and talking about New Year’s Resolutions. How do you feel about them? Personally, I hate them with a passion!

Setting myself up for inevitable failure by promising to adhere to a list of distant goals never seems in my best interest. There’s enough failure in a writer’s world. I don’t need to look for more. A solemn hand-over-the-heart, I-promise-to-do-this resolution feels like a rock around my neck – a very big one – weighing me down. I’m doomed before January 2nd arrives. Far be it from me to dissuade you, of course, if New Year’s Day motivates you.  But I’ll have no solutions to offer if, at the end of January, you’re frustrated by defeat.

I stopped in at K.M. Weiland’s blog recently and found her thinking along the same line:

“How many times have you made a list of resolutions in January,” she says, “only to have misplaced them, forgotten about them, or just plain given up on them before the month was out? This year, instead of making a complete list of writing resolutions for the whole year, try implementing one new resolution every month.”

If you’re determined to have resolutions, that sounds like a fine compromise – a way to be realistic about the desire to have achievable goals and actually reach them. – and she includes a set of twelve writing-related resolutions to help. Do click on over there to read them when you’re done here.

One of the few good things coming out of all the talk about resolutions is the sharing of goals. Once we’ve told someone about ours, there seems to be more of a personal obligation to stick with them. That’s one reason why I don’t usually share mine.

I do have goals, of course, but I’m flexible about them. I intend to do my best to reach them, although it will take more than promises at the beginning of January to get me there.  Recognizing that I’m not in complete control of my destination is important. That’s in God’s hands. Only making a start on the journey is in mine.

I’m not sure why we think a new year is the best time for major re-evaluation and rededication. Any new day works for me. I may change directions or renew my journey often. If I falter today, I’ll start again tomorrow.

So, yes, for now I think I’ll stick to my plan of keeping current goals to myself, but I will share the two verses that I’m adopting for reinforcement as I pursue them:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11]

“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” [Psalm 62:2]

Blessings to all of you as you step into this new year of promise and potential. May it be a year filled with enriching experiences, achievement and rewards.

~

What does the New Year mean for you?

What’s your approach to making resolutions or setting goals?

~  ~  ~

NOTE: The promised update regarding Jimmy Rankin’s guitar contest has been added to the bottom of the original post, here.