Archives: There’s No Sin in Being Good to Yourself

When it came time to find words for today’s post, I had none. I wandered through my archives, looking for something to ‘re-run’, and one title appealled, so I’m reposting it. Sometimes being good to oneself is as important as being good to someone else.

I clicked on the link in the first paragraph to ensure it was still active, and I found the blogger, Patri Francis, had managed to continue her disciplines for just two weeks. Her blog posts ended at that point, in 2009. Curious, I checked out her profile and found she had a second blog. A further click took me to a post that uncannily seemed meant for me today, entitled “What We Inherit“. But after reading it I found that blog also ended there, a last post in 2011. Still, my original post and the links seem worth sharing again. I hope you think so, too.

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Sunset Home

A blog called “Toil, Solitude, Prayer: Writing as a Practice” caught my attention recently. It is a secondary blog for author Patry Francis who is returning to her writing after a six month hiatus following surgery for cancer. The blog is recording her attempt to add several daily disciplines to her life that will help her finish her next book. It’s such a commendable goal and I settled in to read all of the posts.

I found myself wondering how, just six months after her surgery, she can have the mental stamina to tackle such a regime. Several years after my surgery I am still not there. Yes, the body is healed. But the mind? Having cancer, regardless of its severity, is a life-changing experience. Hearing that diagnosis does a real number on your mind. For a long time after physical recovery is complete the mind will continue holding you hostage in places you don’t want to be. Overcoming that inertia is a bear!

As I read Patry’s daily account I know what she is attempting would have been too ambitious for me.  Setting achievable goals is important but the operative word for me is ‘achievable’. Compounding a series of goals over a short period of time is putting additional stress on a mind that isn’t ready to handle it. It sets a person up for failure, and failure is devastating to the morale.

My remedy for getting back into my writing was to set one reachable goal — to write something every day – with no pressure to rack up a specific number of words or do it within a set time frame. Maybe it was only a minor challenge but by not being overwhelmed with the immensity of a more impressive one, I succeeded. It was satisfying to look back after each week and see the word count growing. And with each success came increasing optimism and energy. I finished that manuscript and the sense of achievement was wonderful.

But first I had to give myself permission to find the one goal that was realistically within reach. I also had to accept that there are times in life when there’s no sin in backing off a bit and being good to myself.

(Originally posted May 5, 2009)

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The Long Road to Publication

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For the past few months my aunt, Norma McGuire (aka Nonie Vogue), has been working on a special and very personal project – a chapter book for children. It contains bedtime stories that were told by her now deceased husband to their children and grandchildren. Each chapter recounts an adventure of an old fishing boat captain and his young friend.

The manuscript for JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS* has been read and re-read, revised, edited and proofread multiple times. Accompanying illustrations have been sketched. A website has been created. All that remains is to find a publishing home for it.

Despite all the telling, writing, editing, revising and illustrating, that ‘all’ is probably going to be the longest and most difficult part of the journey. Those of us who are still looking for agent representation or a publishing contract of our own know all too well how distant that view can sometimes look, especially when the rejections roll in and the waiting seems endless.

Pursuing a dream takes more than just work. It takes hope, courage and determination as well as patience and persistence. Throughout her eighty-eight years Norma has shown all those qualities, although she’s not one to sit around and wait for things to happen.

I’ve mentioned some of her accomplishments before. She’s a photographer, she paints and she quilts. Throughout her marriage she worked alongside her husband who was a commercial artist. Years after anyone else would have retired, she created a line of hasti-notes from her own paintings. In the past four-or-so years she has been knitting for a homeless mission: so far, exactly 155 toques and 126 pair of mitts, as well as 72 tiny toques for newborns in hospital, with who knows how many more to come. During the past two years she has also filled seven leather-bound journals with wise quotations and stories from her life to create ‘treasure books’ for her family, every page accompanied by a sketch or watercolour painting – to date, 572 of them!

Somehow I don’t think she’ll have any trouble seeing this book publication project through to completion, regardless of how long it takes. She’s a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person and already has the goal in sight.

* JOHNNY AND MR. FREDERICKS
Stories as told by Harry C. McGuire
Edited & Illustrated by Norma G. McGuire

http://johnnysadventures.wordpress.com

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A Vocation or Avocation?

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How we think of ourselves can determine how others think of us.  Our attitude affects our demeanor, and that in turn affects how others respond to us.

What does this have to do with writing? I believe respecting our right to be serious about our writing can determine whether we become known as word dabblers, hobbyists or career writers. (If you’re content to dabble I’ll jump in here to defend your choice because I realize not everyone intends to write full time.) But so often we make excuses for what we do… apologize for the time we spend closeted away with our computers or pen and paper, as if our pursuit is frivolous or perhaps even sinful.

I’ve heard writers claim that it wasn’t until they received payment for their work that they began to take themselves seriously. (Okay, I’ll admit I’ve said that!)  It wasn’t until they considered writing a legitimate form of employment that they felt entitled to set aside a formal workspace, and claim the right to uninterrupted work hours.

As a hobby, writing can be relegated to the leftover moments in our lives, but if it is to be more than that, we have to treat it like the commitment it is, and write… guilt free.

If someone provided you with a homecare worker and an uptown office on the condition that you write there at least four hours a day, would you feel more like “a real writer” than when you sit at the kitchen table and write during junior’s naptime? What does that say about your attitude?

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Monday Musings on Friday

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Friday is the favourite day of the week for many people. It heralds the weekend, an opportunity to wind down and escape from the workplace. For preachers, of course, the weekend is a ‘getting into gear’ time. Sunday is the focal point of their week’s studying and sermon preparation. But for the rest of the world Fridays signal the abandonment of schedules and appointments, a welcome break from answering to the demands and responsibilities of employment.

When I mention loving Mondays (I’m sorry, I know I’ve said it before, but I really do), Friday lovers glower at me. While Sundays run a close second with the hush of worship and the exhilaration of praise, Mondays are beginning again days for me. There’s something about tackling a new work week, and setting objectives with fresh determination thanks to the weekend’s rejuvenation.

I see Mondays as the perfect time to get back into a writing regime with renewed enthusiasm. That means Fridays can be good days to evaluate progress and plan ahead for a productive Monday. January doesn’t have a monopoly on resolutions.

Okay, so I’m pontificating! But just so you know… this is the beginning of a long weekend here in Canada, so Monday will be a holiday. This weekend we can all love both the Friday and the Monday.

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Photo by Tom Curtis

Taking Stock of our Writing Inventory

In a recent post WordServe agent Rachelle Gardner provided statistics in review of her year. WordPress also sent out the stats for our WordPress blogs. I took note of mine but they didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know… that the number of readers here has steadily increased and the most popular posts are writing-related. My busiest day of the year was December 3rd with 146 views. The post that day was Writers Don’t Learn Writing By Writing. The second most read post was way back last January: Getting the Gears in Motion .

There’s been a flurry of year end and New Year activity as we all take stock, evaluate, decide on new directions and fresh starts. Me? I’m more of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. I was relatively content last year. I accomplished much of what I set out to do and enjoyed the doing. Yes, there are still unachieved goals as I continue my pursuit of publication, but they don’t require a major change of direction. They just require patience and persistence.

Taking stock isn’t a sedentary thing. I’m tuned in to God, listening, looking for direction. But I’m not marking time. I’m continuing to write, revise, and work at the craft. Staying active. Exercising my abilities. Even when I sometimes feel stalled I am moving ahead because I know God is there, ready to lead if I will follow.

Did you do  year end stock taking? What did it reveal about your progress? Is it causing you to continue on the same path or head out in a new direction?

How many? You’ve got to be kidding!

As of last night, only four days into NaNoWriMo, the total collective word count wrenched from 185,587 word-weary brains is an incredible 417,497,927. We won’t discuss the quality of those words. Some will be little better than gibberish, although some — mine included, of course 🙂 — are creating a legitimate novel.

Not everyone sees the point in this thirty-day exercise. The web has been a-twitter (oops, sorry about that) over a post at Salon.com by Laura Miller suggesting we shouldn’t bother to write; it’s just a waste of time and energy.

Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times took her to task with a searing rebuttal, calling the article “at best wrongheaded, and at worst, smallhearted.”

Then Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management added a blog post about it yesterday. He says, “I think the communal aspect of NaNoWriMo is fantastic–being held accountable is important. If participating means more butt-in-chair time, then I approve. For authors, I think it can be a great exercise, one through which you can learn new techniques and strategies that can be employed long after the month has passed.”

He does side with Ms. Miller on one point, however, and it’s well made. “If you want to write, read. Reading is absolutely the first, most important step to becoming a writer. And while I have a feeling that many people participating in NaNoWriMo are readers–and probably big readers at that–there are plenty of people who aspire to write books, and even attempt to write them, that don’t read.”

So, my question for all you writers is, whether you’re Wrimos or not, what are you reading right now — not what’s on your TBR pile, but what’s open on your coffee table (or better still, your lap) at this moment?

(I’m reading James Scott Bell’s THE ART OF WAR FOR WRITERS and Gina Holmes’ CROSSING OCEANS. And for any of you who care to know, my contribution to the collection of NaNo words as of Thursday midnight is 4,009. Not exactly a huge achievement yet, but I’m working to improve it.)

At this moment, though, I’m neither reading nor writing. I’m falling asleep as my fingers tap away at the keyboard, so I think I’ll have to call it a night. (Can one call it a night if it’s actually morning?)

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Achievement means first making a start

This morning I was made aware of how much my attitude limits my achievements. A television interview with athlete and paralympian Rick Hansen left me in awe of the example he sets, not just for the physically handicapped but for everyone. He has already accomplished more in his life than many able-bodied ever will.

While discussing his Man in Motion world tour — when he wheeled himself around the world, 40,000 kilometers through thirty-four countries on four continents — Rick was asked what was the greatest hurdle he encountered. He said it was overcoming inertia and the fear of making a start.

Now, if that doesn’t speak to us at every stage in our writing endeavours, nothing will. Think about

  • stopping to focus and select an idea
  • accepting a schedule or a goal
  • picking a moment to sit down and start writing
  • committing to finishing the manuscript
  • beginning again, whether rewriting or revising
  • searching out appropriate critiquers and/or an editor
  • sending out queries and submissions
  • moving on to new material

What’s your biggest writing hurdle right now? What can (and will) you do to try and overcome it?

What are you going to do while you’re here, with your every breath? — Rick Hansen

His book: RICK HANSEN: MAN IN MOTION

Climbing Ladders and Reaching for Success

People are painting parts of our house today. High parts. The parts my husband prefers not to deal with.  He’s already power washed the siding and painted much of the trim. There are just these teeter-on-the-top-of-a-ladder and climb-on-the-roof bits that still need attention, and ladders and roofs are not his favourite places.

Unfortunately, short of renting a cherry picker or hanging from a helicopter, there’s no other way to reach them.

As I watched a ladder being maneuvered into place I thought of other lofty locales that we writers struggle to reach – not roofs, but the elusive goals of finished manuscripts, representation and publication, bestseller lists or other recognition in the literary world. 

We climb rungs toward those goals, working past writer’s block, tapping out words in the silence of night or early morning, revising until we’re fed up with the process, querying, schmoozing, signing, smiling until we’re weary from the effort. Each step in the process is an achievement, but is it enough to ensure success? Do we need to enlist the help of others to reach those just-out-of-reach dreams?

What part of the writer’s journey is the most difficult for you? Why? What or who do you rely on for help?

Carpe Diem for Writers

On her blog today Carol Benedict includes a music video of “Seize the Day” sung by Carolyn Arends.  Only one of the verses makes reference to writing a novel but the theme is one that reminds me of how important carpe diem is if I’m serious about my goals.

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“Life slips away like hourglass sand,” begins each chorus, and life really does. This moment, this day, will never be ours to do over again. Each one wasted puts our goals one step farther into the distance until with enough procrastination they can end up beyond reach. Does this mean every moment of every day must be spent productively — writing, revising, marketing? Would doing something other than such things always be a waste of our time?

If I could sit on two different sides of the table I could argue about this with myself. But I don’t think I will. I’ll ask your opinion.

What constitutes productivity for you? How do you achieve it?

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Finding Failure or Success

Success is a unisex commodity. Don’t we all like the feeling of being considered successful? It’s satisfying to feel in control and be functioning with efficiency, accomplishing what we set out to do.

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The fact is, we don’t always accomplish what we intend. I’ve read that less than 10% of people manage to keep their New Year’s Resolutions, and that by the end of January at least 50% have already failed. With odds like that why would anyone make resolutions at all? Why is failure more common than success?

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I suspect it’s because we make “ought to” resolutions, not “want to” ones, believing that we need to be something we’re not or that we need to accomplish something we previously couldn’t. Discontent is at the heart of many goals. That’s not to say we should never dream or aspire to great achievements in life. I just wonder if maybe we start by trying to fix the wrong things first. It’s so much easier to succeed with a positive attitude than with a negative one.

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But how do we change from seeing a glass half empty to seeing it half full? By not focusing on the container and choosing to examine its contents instead.

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My opinion has always been that a positive attitude has its origin in self-acceptance. If we can accept that as a clay vessel we may not seem worth much by our own standards but we are made practical when we allow God to fill and use us, then our perspective will change.  Only then are we likely to have the necessary motivation to commit to achievable goals.

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Applied to writing, our attitude affects our ability to both create magical words and set practical goals.

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Here’s a challenge for you. Write a list, not of resolutions but of desirable possibilities – things that you could do if you wanted to. Things that are within your control. Now pick just one thing on that list that ignites your enthusiasm. One thing that has the potential to make a difference to you. You need that positive spark to set yourself up for success. Telling someone about it will help cement the commitment so share your idea in the comment section. Saying a prayer for the will to act wouldn’t hurt either. Then make a start. If you believe you can do it, you will.

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Remember, the only person who is sure to fail is the one who doesn’t try.

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