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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I’ve discovered what it takes to succeed!

“Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you,
and in the end you are sure to succeed.” 

Abraham Lincoln

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Everything I needed to know I’ve learned from watching the wildlife around here. Here are a few of my discoveries about success and survival:

1. It may be a long journey. Stay nourished — physically, of course, but writers also need to feed their creativity.

Yum! Just what I needed.

Yum! Just what I needed.

2. Be open to advice.

WHAT are you suggesting?

WHAT are you suggesting?

3. Don’t overlook the little things.

I may be small but I know how to make myself heard.

I may be small but I know how to make myself heard.

4. Be proactive. Get a jump start on the competition. Success doesn’t come on a silver platter. You have to reach for it.

You know what they say about the early bird!

You know what they say about the early bird!

5. When you encounter difficulties, don’t give up.

Hang on!

Hang on!

6. Value the friendships you make along the way.

Cooperation and support mean a lot

Cooperation and support mean a lot

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“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

Napoleon Hill

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The Impossible Dream: what keeps you from giving up?

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If you were on Google’s home page anytime Wednesday, you will have noticed the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s 155th birthday was being celebrated by Google, who turned its logo into an undulating frequency wave.

Heinrich Rudolf Hertz

What I didn’t know about Hertz was that he died without realizing the significance of his research.

Wikipedia says, “While his discoveries would eventually lead to the inventions of the wireless telegraph, radio and television, Hertz didn’t realize the importance of his work at the time. After an experiment that helped establish the photoelectric effect, he commented that, ‘It’s of no use whatsoever.’”

He died at age 36, and it wasn’t until thirty-six years later that the hertz was established as a standard unit of measurement.

As writers, we sometimes downplay the importance of our efforts. We write,  revise and refine with the ultimate goal of publication, but we realistically understand that it’s a dream that might be beyond our reach. And, like Hertz, there are days when we feel justified in saying, “It’s crap… no use whatsoever.”

The thing is, just like Hertz, some writers never live to see the success of their endeavours. There are many books published posthumously that go on to great success — The Trial by Franz Kafka, Queen: The Story of an American Family by Alex Haley, Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf, The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson, and The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien – to name a few.

Consider what the world of literature would have missed if these writers had given in to the despair that is typical when the internal critic creeps in under the radar and sabotages morale — if they had destroyed those manuscripts instead of allowing them to collect dust on a shelf somewhere. Or if they had completely given up on writing before ever finishing the first draft.

There are undoubtedly many excellent writers who never see their dreams realized, not because they couldn’t find a publisher, but because they stopped too soon — stopped writing, stopped querying, stopped dreaming.

Are you ever tempted to throw in the towel … to give up writing and find something else on which to focus your time and energy? If you aren’t, what would you say to encourage those who are?

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Surviving Despite the Odds

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Surprised April air shivered in Wednesday’s snowfall. There was only a skiff, but it ghosted the greening lawn and emerging plants. By mid-morning Thursday the sun reclaimed the sky and its warmth overpowered the snow.

I ventured out with camera in hand and found magenta and mauve-veined blossoms of Lenten Rose Helleborus weighted into submission but still gamely nodding. They’re usually hardy in zone six, but here they don’t perish despite Mother Nature’s zone four and five chilly whim. I’m not sure why.

Only in mild winters are their glossy green leaves meant to be evergreen, and yet our plants have remained evergreen every year whether the temperature dips to minus 20 degrees C. or remains above freezing. They prefer “an open or partially shaded locale”; here they are in deep shade against the house’s northeast foundation. Care instructions say they require “a nutritious soil that has decent drainage but is not overly dry”; here their roots reside in dry clay.

Still, they endure… much like the aspiring novelist who doesn’t follow all the rules or meet all the requirements, who gets battered by winds of change, and succeeds despite the odds.

Sometimes there is no explanation for success except that we have persisted. A small magnet on my refrigerator says, “Bloom where you are planted.” We bloom, and hope that someone cares enough to see and appreciate.

Do you sometimes feel you’re barely surviving in your writing efforts? What does it take to keep you rooted and blooming?

 

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

[Ecclesiastes 3:1 – KJV]

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* * Don’t forget to read and comment on yesterday’s post to be eligible for Sunday’s book draw. * *

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?

Facing Failure

Thanks to Kelly McMichael for pointing me to a video of the speech given by J.K. Rowling at the 2008 Harvard University Commencement. It is entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.” There are three main points in the speech: one that focuses on failure versus success, another on having the power to imagine better for the oppressed in our world, and the last on the value of true friends. The speech is some twenty minutes long but well worth your time.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement

If you choose not to take the time, then at least take with you this comment:

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case you fail by default.”

From the perspective of rejection and failure in the world of writing and publishing it is something to cling to when you realize the journey J.K. Rowling has taken.

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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A NaNoWriMo Winning Effort

A winning shout out: I did it! After three years of participating in NaNoWriMo this year I finally managed to eek out the required 50,000 words within the thirty-day time frame – in fact, with two days to spare. I’ll keep at it until tomorrow night’s deadline but the pressure’s off.

 

The novel isn’t done of course, but thanks to my frenetic NaNo’ing it’s well under way and now can continue at a more reasonable pace. And maybe now I can “get a life” again, and maybe a little more sleep. Ah, yes… sleep. That would… be… so… zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

NaNoWriMo – On Your MARK…

This is our last day of… what? Sleeping, leisurely meals, spending time with the family, our sanity? Maybe all of those things, but it’s also the start of commitment, endurance, achievement. We’ve chosen to participate in this writing adventure called NaNoWriMo because we believe there is a worthy and attainable goal just thirty days away.

By accepting the challenge we have each made ourself a promise. We will try and we will keep trying.

And just for good measure take with you the following admonition as you venture into the NaNo forest tomorrow. (I heard it from Jessica Morrell who was quoting Margaret Atwood who in turn had been quoting Alfred Lord Tennyson — sorry, I know that’s convoluted, and now I’m quoting it, too, but it’s so applicable.)

“Doubt not, go forward – if thou doubt, the beasts will tear thee piecemeal.”*

BeastsIf we stop trying before November 30th the beasts of failure will be there to do more than gloat. They’ll  gorge themselves on our self-esteem, mercilessly ripping it from our hearts.

Okay, so I ran out of pithy, encouraging words to use for motivation. Isn’t fear a better motivator, anyway?  😉

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[*The Holy Grail, Alfred Lord Tennyson]

Who is a Writer?

 

In writing circles the question of who is a writer slides onto the menu board with predictable frequency. Just when an explanation seems to offer a tidy answer such as “someone who writes”,  complications crop up. Words like “finished manuscript”, “author” and “publication” are added to the mix.

 

Last week I came across a blog entry by Lauren Lise Baratz-Logsted in which she shares her own version of what it means to be a writer. I applaud her honesty and the wisdom of her interpretation.

 

She reports that she wrote 34 pages that day. “They may not be perfect pages, or even good pages, but for me it’s all part of growing a book and it’ll give me something to edit when the time comes. I don’t write 34 pages every day, just so you know. But I do set the bar every day and I’ve been doing so ever since I started writing seriously almost fifteen years ago. In the beginning the daily goal was three pages….

 

“Everyone I talk to has their own definition of what it is to be a writer. Some say that if you’re writing at all, often or rarely, published or not, you’re a writer. I’m not here to dispute that. But my own personal definition of a writer, just for me to live by, is that to be a writer, when I’m working on a project I need to show up every day and write. Sometimes projects require a gestation period before getting started, but once started there’s no waiting for inspiration or the Muse. There’s just me, and the computer, and whatever bar I decide to set myself.”

 

Lauren isn’t saying that her formula is the right one for you or for me, only that it works for her. Her straightforward admission becomes my light bulb discovery. It tells me success as a writer is a very personal achievement. Each of us must establish our own blueprint and with an architect’s precision adhere to the discipline that allows us to attain whatever measure of success has become our goal.

 

There is no one universal answer. There is only the response we give to the voice within.