Procrastination by any other name…

Have I been procrastinating? Judging by the date of my previous post, apparently so. Or maybe I could call it prioritizing. I’ve been writing, gardening, working on my genealogy project, capturing spring things with my camera … all desirable activities, but not productive when it comes to writing a blog post.

A recent question about Writer’s Block in one of my Facebook groups reminded me of how often writers use it as an excuse to procrastinate:

“Most of us probably experience writer’s block in some form from time to time. What are the … strategies you’ve used to bump yourself out of the ditch, and back into productivity?”

If I’m not writing, it’s easy to call it Writer’s Block and blame it on an uncooperative muse.  The truth is, I don’t believe in Writer’s Block. And before you smack me upside the head and swear you’ve experienced it so you know it exists, let me quickly add that I’m convinced it’s our sub-conscience not wanting to write. In that respect it’s very real.

It is not, however, some outside force that controls my brain. ‘Ms. Muse’ doesn’t straddle my computer monitor and refuse to let me write. As much as I might like to blame some evasive, independent entity, I am the only one who chooses not to place my hands on the keyboard and press word-forming keys.

Like many others writers, I’ve sat in front of my monitor with hands poised … and hesitated. I wanted inspiration to strike and send me into a frenzy of creative energy. It does happen that way on rare occasions, but most often I must choose words and throw them at the page whether they seem inspired or not.  I’ve learned that if I sit and wait, hoping for perfect words to manifest themselves, I will face a blank page indefinitely.

Perfection is the enemy of creativity. While I have faith that God will loosen a stream of words if I start typing, I also have faith in my ability to edit, revise and re-craft them if at first they aren’t exactly what I was hoping for.

And, believe me, they are frequently far from what I was hoping for! That’s when it would be easy to get discouraged, walk away from the computer and find something more rewarding to do. What’s more rewarding, however, is sticking it out — leaving the less-than-impressive words on the page in favour of moving ahead with new ones, because it is the new ones that will eventually get me to the end, and there is nothing more satisfying than reaching that goal.

So, call it what you will — writer’s block, an unhelpful muse, procrastination, endless prioritizing, or just plain not getting it done — BICHOK (butt in chair, hands on keyboard) really IS the only way to overcome it.

I know, because I just did it. 🙂

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My Memory (or Lack Thereof)

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I take my mind for granted until it fails me. In my younger years it wasn’t uncommon to forget a name, or forget to pick up something I’d planned to get while grocery shopping, but at that age nobody worried about a bit of forgetfulness. In my ‘golden’ years, such lapses make me stop and ponder whether I’m losing my mind altogether. Still, I take a deep breath and tell myself that hasn’t actually happened…yet.

What brought this to mind today was the recent frustration of not being able to remember the magazines that used to carry a favourite article. Granted, it was forty years ago that I eagerly awaited each issue. The featured article was written by Marjorie Holmes and most often it was just a bit of homestyle wisdom or a descriptive observation. I loved her outlook on life and her way of expressing it on the page long before I realized she was a successful author of many books.

But could I remember the name of even one of the magazines? Nope. The harder I tried, the more elusive it became. Exasperated, I finally put it aside and left to do something else … and promptly had the names of two magazines — Family Circle and Woman’s Day — pop into my head, both of which carried Ms. Holmes’ articles. My mind likes to play games with me. Maybe it finds that kind of thing entertaining. Personally, I find it annoying.

It’s frustrating to have my body fail me as it ages, but as the quirky quotation says, “Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” * Way back in 2009 I posted on the topic  ‘Where Does the Mind Go?’. Eight years later I still don’t have that answer. I do know it doesn’t help to stress over it.

There’s a notebook and pen on my bedside table because no matter how much I might struggle (and fail) to sort out a particular scene in one of my writing projects in the daytime, I can be sure if there is a solution it will find its way out of my grey matter just as I’m dozing off for the night (and  I’ve learned from experience I won’t remember it in the morning). The urge to burrow deeper under the covers is overcome by the urgency to record precious words; I reach for the notebook.

It’s a contradiction that I focus most efficiently when a deadline is looming, but the one hundred billion neurons in my brain won’t cooperate when I try to force them. I know that, but still….

With Alzheimer’s in my family, possibly I’m super-sensitive to memory lapses. Do I put too much importance on the need to remember everything exactly when I want to? Maybe my problem isn’t about memory so much as impatience.

At least I can be comforted by knowing I haven’t tried hanging up my truck keys in the refrigerator or some other equally inappropriate place. But at this rate, if I’m to keep frustration at bay, I think I may need a larger collection of notebooks so there will always be one close by when my memory provides some recollection that I’m bound to forget again within moments. I’m also going to have to develop some kind of indexing system so I can locate the record of those memories when I need them.

Now, back to hunting up that Marjorie Holmes article.

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If you’d like a good explanation about how memory and the brain work, this Science Daily article is an interesting read.

*Attributed to both Ozzy Osbourne and Mark Twain

Written and Photographic Snapshots

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During my blogging absence over the past month I’ve taken an uncountable number of snapshots — hundreds of them — with my camera and iPhone.

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It makes me smile to remember a trip our family took in 1980 when, despite feeling significant guilt, I clicked through nineteen rolls of 35 mm film over the nine weeks’ journey. It was extravagant, but it was unlikely I would ever make that same trip again and I wanted to record every memory regardless of the cost.

Our first digital camera was a gift when my hubby retired in 2003. At first I was inhibited by the limitless opportunity of  amazing photographic freedom. It took a while to accept that I could depress my finger as often as I wanted and there would be no cost attached to any of my ‘mistakes’. One click recorded something; a different click deleted it; a third click printed it, but only if I desired an ‘hard copy’… and because I purchased photo paper in quantity, even that cost was negligible.

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I’ve been told the difference between an average photographer and a good one is in the number of discarded photos. Savvy photographers don’t display their mediocre shots. My laptop’s photo folder says it currently holds 6,874 pictures. On my desktop computer in the office there are 18,246 more, and that doesn’t account for the files saved on disks and memory cards. I don’t suppose a dozen of them are what I would call really good shots, but I keep all their files, just because I can. The only person besides me who likes to browse through them is my eight-year-old granddaughter and she doesn’t seem to care about quality. She likes revisiting the scenes, as do I.

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One advantage of keeping all of them is having a ready source of something to use in a blog post or add to the collages I like to create for inspiration while writing my novels.

Writers have various means of encouraging their creativity. Some have rituals they follow before settling into a writing session — maybe preparing a cup of tea, lighting a scented candle, turning on favourite music, or setting out a particular talisman.

One of my favourite go-to blogs is Writer Unboxed, and recently it ran a post about using a collage to create a snapshot of your novel. It turns out, I’m not the only one whose creativity gets a boost from visual stimulation. For each of my novels I’ve put together storyboards with photos, graphics and other items that reflect aspects of the plot. Some of the references might seem nebulous to someone unfamiliar with the developing story, but there is value to me in the artistic endeavour of assembling the collage. On the few occasions when I begin to bog down part way through the story, I stop writing and return to the collage, searching out new bits and building them into the existing collection until my enthusiasm for writing returns.

It’s almost as effective as taking a walk in the woods or beside the lake or seashore with my camera in hand. 🙂

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If you’re a storyteller, what techniques do you have for maintaining your writing momentum? 

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“He has made everything beautiful in its time.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:11a]

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Writing in Summer Solitude

Last spring author Debra Purdy Kong blogged about her need for solitude. She said, “scientific research has shown that creative people need solitude. An article in Quartz revealed what many of us writers have known for some time. Solitude has nothing to do with being bored or being lonely. In fact, it’s an essential component for any type of creativity.”

DSC09480The creative person’s desire for solitude isn’t limited to summer, but for many of us that’s the time we’re most likely to find some. School’s out. Organizations put their meetings on hiatus. Employees take their vacations. It’s the best time to escape … or, at least, that’s what we seem to think. Maybe we’re brainwashed to believe that, when we should really be looking for periods of solitude throughout the entire year — any time our well of inspiration is in need of replenishment.

A solitary stroll on an crisp fall morning or a snowy weekend evening might be all it takes to let fresh ideas break through what I call a cotton batten brain. A rainy day spent at the museum or art gallery does it for some, while others find refreshment pouring through shelves in a library or bookstore. Personally, I’d never turn down the opportunity to spend an hour in any season, sitting on a log at the beach or by the lake, emptying the mind to ready it for refilling.

My writerly sub-conscience needs that, but so too does my spirit. Solitude and stillness help me open myself to God and let peace and renewal seep in.

I saw this graphic on the (in)courage website recently with the words, “May you have the chance to be still, to hear His voice in the quiet spaces.” I’ve borrowed it to use here as a summertime reminder. I’ll be absent from the internet during portions of August as I focus on experiencing stillness and refreshment, and on redirecting my creative efforts. I hope you’ll make time to do the same.

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Putting My Imagination to Work

In one of my posts back in 2009 I made a comment about imagination…

“Imagination is a fascinating phenomenon. With it the writer’s mind creates people who don’t exist, places that have never been, events that didn’t happen, and somehow combines them to create a world that readers accept as real.”

Such imagination can be found in more than fiction.

During Spring Break I accompanied my DIL and granddaughter to a local nursery. Their goal was to find a few plants and accessories to make a Fairy Garden.

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No, this isn’t her garden; it’s mine!

This is where I admit to a love of little woodland hideaways and secret places. Stories like The Secret Garden and Alice in Wonderland that feature wild, abandoned gardens or hidden worlds accessed via a rabbit hole still fascinate me as an adult.

I’ve coveted every fairy garden I’ve ever seen, and yet never taken the initiative to create one for myself. I’m not sure what prompted me, but last week, after acquiring a few leftover plants from my granddaughter’s, I set out to make one, too.

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The one resident fairy is probably lonely as she basks in the shade of her miniature gypsy-style wagon, but the garden’s not finished yet. And once it is, I have another project along similar lines, although that one may require some assistance from my hubby. There are a couple stumps in our woodsy acreage, and ever since seeing the video about “The Gnomist”, I’ve been wanting to add a little door or two … access to a tiny new Gnome’s ghome in my woodland garden. 🙂

It’s all just my goofy imagination at work, but at my age I figure people will forgive my lapse into early senility. After all, we never really outgrow the need to indulge in a bit of whimsy, do we?

If you’ve never seen “The Gnomist” you might enjoy taking a few minutes to view it now. The story behind it is very special. (A Kleenex or two would be wise. Be forewarned.)

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Are you tempted to add a little whimsy to your life now, too?

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Writing Time vs Online Time (It’s all about balance)

I did say this post would be coming last ‘Friday’, didn’t I? Mmm, yes. This isn’t Friday, is it? Some bloggers might be inclined to say, “Oh, well, suck it up and let’s get on with it.” Personally, I wouldn’t think that was a polite way to respond. I’m more the apologetic type. “So sorry,” I’ll say. “Unavoidable interruptions. Sincere apologies.” Now suck it up and let’s carry on.

We writers sometimes need a jolt to unsettle our complacency. In my previous post I mentioned a comment from a book I’m currently reading by Jeff Goins. I went to his website for the URL to share with you, started reading his post and that’s where I got today’s jolt.

“…what do writers do? They write. There’s nothing mystical or magical about it — you just have to show up and commit to doing the work. Place butt in chair, fingers on keys, and start typing. And this, of course, is where most writers fail. They never actually write a word. They talk about writing, think about writing, even read about writing. But they do not write.”

I think that makes last week’s post even more appropriate. Not only is our “crazy social media platform maintenance” frenzy a form of stalling, the talking, thinking and reading about writing are all equally effective deterrents to any success.

It’s decision time. Time to make strategic choices that will provide the resources we need while allowing us to spend the majority of our time pursuing our creativity. So, what will those choices look like? Take a moment to…um, I’d say smell the roses, but it’s too early for them…so maybe just admire the snowdrops (they’re everywhere in my garden right now), then grab your notebook and start planning.

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(Winter Snowdrops – Galanthus)

  • Restrict social media networks to the few that are the most useful

We agree: we can’t do it all. Ideally, the best networks will be the ones where we encounter people of similar interests, the sites where we will find the information that is most suited to our purpose or that will reach the most people who are likely to be interested in our product or subject matter. It isn’t necessary to constantly explore cyberspace. Once we’ve found them, settle on a select few sites.

I have a group of writing friends on Facebook in addition to my family, church and purebred dog connections, so next to my blog, that’s my network of preference. I check in on Twitter occasionally, but don’t spend much time there, I recently quit Google+, and I’ve avoided Pinterest entirely because I know it’s addictive.

My list of regularly visited blogs and websites have been whittled down considerably this year to include those of a handful of friends, fellow authors, and writing mentors, the Seekerville writing community, and a couple inspirational sites. That’s not to say I don’t occasionally visit some that are on my earlier lists, or go to places like Amazon and home-decorating sites, but they are no longer places to dally on a daily basis or let eat into my writing time.

  • Allot specific amounts of time to spend online

How long do we realistically need to check and respond to e-mail, to peruse a limited number of favourite blogs or websites, to do the research for a particular writing project? Determine that ahead of time and set a timer. Knowing it’s counting down should keep us more focused on our task and less inclined to dawdle. Once our ‘social’ time is over and we move on to the day’s work, I try to resist checking in online every few minutes. If it’s a writing day I might work for an hour and then allow myself a ten minute break to check for messages, get a Coke or a coffee, and carry on. Your daily tasks will be different from mine, depending on your day job, family responsibilities, and other commitments. How much time we allot to social media is up to us but we need to be disciplined, honest and realistic about how we ration it.

  • Include opportunities to ‘give back’ to the writing community

It’s easy for writers to become immersed in our fictional worlds and believe the online hype we try to create is all about us. It’s not. We relish the support and encouragement of those we look up to, those whose efforts have brought them success, and in turn we should be ready to offer what help we can to others. Whether it’s leaving comments of encouragement, interviewing newcomers on our blogs or offering book reviews on places like Amazon and Goodreads, we can show appreciation by giving back, regardless of our level of expertise or inexperience.

  • Schedule time into the day for creative refuelling

Whatever our workday consists of, it’s important to make sure we carve out a niche for personal refreshment. (And that doesn’t mean to go blog-hopping!) Some of my favourite writing books aren’t actually on the craft itself, but on nurturing the writer within. Julia Cameron recommends artist’s dates — going for a walk, visiting an art gallery or museum, spending quiet time in an environment that is personally rejuvenating. It can be a whole afternoon, or just fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s “me time”.

That’s about it. I’m not all that proficient when it comes to how I spend my online time, but I’m trying to be intentional about it. When I succeed, I’m surprised at how much more I get done in a day.

As for those links I promised, here’s a list in random order of some of the more helpful writing sites I particularly like (no, I don’t visit them everyday, and you’d better not, either!):

Writer UnboxedWriter’s Digest, Anne R. AllenK.M. Weiland, Jessica Morrell, Chip MacGregor, Rachelle GardnerJane Friedman, The Write Life, Seekerville, The Writer’s Alley, Write to Done, Story Fix: Larry Brooks, The Kill Zone (Hey, don’t raise your eyebrows; I write cozy mysteries!), Jeff Goins, Pub Rants, Molly Greene, Kirsten Lamb, Live-Write-Thrive: CS Lakin, Jody Hedlund, Agent Query, Writer Beware, Preditors & Editors, The Passive Voice: The Lawyer Guy, American Christian Fiction Writers, The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, Writers Helping Writers, Absolute Write WaterCooler Forum, Bookends Literary Agency blogWriting World: Moira Allen (blog has concluded, but has sixteen years of archived articles). 

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The Writer and An Addiction to Social Media

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A comment left on my previous post reminded me why I began my venture into social media, AND why I have ever-so-slowly backed away again. Wendy Love said,

I love reading ideas that concur with my own as this one does. As a writer/blogger I keep reading that I have to spread myself all over the internet. But as someone who is challenged by bipolar disorder, I only have so much energy to go around. At one point I cut myself off of everything but now that I am back to writing online I realize I should probably be reaching out more. Can anyone suggest a select few that they would recommend?

Part of my reply: “I began blogging chiefly because I heard the same thing: that to be a successful author you need to establish a tribe…a crowd of online followers. There’s a certain benefit to being part of the social media community, but if we become obsessed with developing numbers to the detriment of our personal growth and writing time, we counteract the value.”

Also detrimental is the subtle addiction to social media. It’s too easy to get hung up on being a courteous communicator — checking online conversations and making sure we reply promptly. One week I discovered I had spent more time trying to react to comments and other people’s articles, and to provide thoughtful responses, than I did working on my own writing project.

Most of my early writing years were spent in cognito as far as any online presence was concerned. I stalked popular agents’ and editors’ blogs while reading ‘how to’ books on the craft of writing. I was in learning mode, and I stayed there until one day the urge to respond to something prodded me into visibility. (I think my first comment was on Rachelle Gardner‘s blog, and I was almost in a cold sweat as I fearfully pressed the SEND key that first time.)

At one point I had well over a hundred blogs and websites bookmarked — all interesting and useful, but, of course, I couldn’t visit each of them every day. A pattern developed, and I found a way to code my favourite, more favourite and most favourite sites. Later I joined Facebook, then also Twitter and Google+, but managed to withstand the temptation of everything else. As I mentioned last week, in conjunction with my blogging, even those few have become too time consuming.

I’ve come to believe that establishing a specific online community is desirable for gathering personal support and industry information, but trying to be present everywhere and “do it all” will eventually drain my energy and shift the focus of my writing towards maintenance rather than creativity. And before having published books to promote, the creative writing aspect is what I need to pursue.

The question of which social media sites are most useful has no single correct answer. I qualify that by adding it depends on what genre you write, how experienced you are, and what your goals are. It also depends on what ignites your passions. I’ll share some of mine in the next edition of my Musings.

I’ve been reading Jeff Goins’ YOU ARE A WRITER (SO START ACTING LIKE ONE). One of his observations struck home:

You know what most of this crazy, social media platform maintenance is? Stalling. Procrastinating the real work you need to do, which is writing. I don’t play that game anymore. I pick a few networks that work for me and I say ‘good riddance’ to the rest. If you’re going to be a real writer, you’ll have to make similar sacrifices.

I hadn’t read that when I decided to jump ship from Google+, but I think he would approve. I’ll be back here on Friday to share what social media I haven’t abandoned and which blogs and websites get the majority of my attention.

In the meantime, in Jeff’s words, “do a little purging and get to work.”

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