Spelling Test

Joe’s Post #164

I know I’m not the best speller in the world. I’m usually not even the best speller in a room filled with 2 year-olds. But I do know that spelling is important. So, I’m going to reblog a post from some weirdo I usually read. Spoiler alert, it’s me.

Spelling Test

Spelling maters

Spelling maters

Oh, the joy of spelling.

To be honest, I’m not the best speller in the world. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. It’s why I think that the greatest invention in the world was the spell-checker.

But The-Youngest doesn’t have the luxury of using that, yet. He has to learn to spell the old-fashioned way.

No, ‘not sound it out’ – whoever gave that advice has not read or listened to the English language… spell knight. Sound it out. Nite. No one would ever guess it has a silent k and let’s not even get started on the whole ‘gh’ complexities. Instead, he has to memorize. The REAL old-fashioned way.

But, after getting a 13/18, I decided it was time for me to help out. Kind of like how Hitler helped out Poland, but whatever, I was fully engaged in helping him learn to spell.

Here are the words we had. Amazingly enough, he didn’t actually have to know what they mean. At least he said he didn’t (but then he said the teacher allowed them to eat all the candy they wanted.) So I also decided to use them in a sentence, to, you know, help him understand the words better.

Also. You also have to know how to spell lots of words after also. A-l-s-o.

Him: “I don’t like where this is going.”

Bought. I bought a new game and no one can play it but me. B-o-u-g-h-t.

Him“What? What game? That’s not fair!”

Cough. You have a bad cough, but that doesn’t mean you get to stay home and play video games all day long. C-o-u-g-h.

Him: “I have a cough now, can I miss the spelling test?

Me: “No.”

Almost. You almost had me fooled when you said you ate all your lunch, but you left the apple behind as evidence that you did not. A-l-m-o-s-t.

Him: “Doh.”

False – True or false, you like girls now? F-a-l-s-e.

Him: “False, Joe, False!!!!”

Officer – Officer, I wasn’t speeding, I was checking to see if my speedometer worked past 140kph. O-f-f-i-c-e-r.

Him: “What’s a speedometer?”

I can't drive 65!

I can’t drive 65!

Speedometer. Used to measure speed, but it’s not on the spelling test.

Soft – You hate your eggs when they are soft and runny. S-o-f-t.

Him: “True.”

Stalk – You once ate a stalk of broccoli and threw up on the dog. S-t-a-l-k.

Him: “No I didn’t! It was squash!”

Halt – Before you walk into traffic, halt and have a look around or your mom will never, ever let you walk to school by yourself. H-a-l-t.

Him:“ Joe!!!”

Faucet – Joe, turn off the faucet for the love of God, we don’t want to waste water. F-a-u-c-e-t.

Him: “I hear that a lot, Joe.”

Me: “I know.”

I want to believe

I want to believe

Saucer – Look up in the sky, Mulder, it’s a flying saucer. S-a-u-c-e-r.

Him: “Who’s Mulder?”

Me: OMG!

Caution – You better use caution when you think it may be a good idea to eat your weight in candy. C-a-u-t-i-o-n.

Him: “Hmmm. Joe, could I actually eat my weight in candy?” 

Lawyer – Remember to always ask for a lawyer when you’re arrested. L-a-w-y-e-r.

Him: “Will I ever need a lawyer?”

Me: “You’ll have one on speed dial.”

Him: “Joe!!!!!”

Awesome – It’ll be awesome when you get 18/18 on the spelling test. A-w-e-s-o-m-e.

Him: Joe, did you know I AM pretty awesome most of the time?”

Me: “Yes. Yes, I did.”

Stall – When you park in a handicap stall without a handicap sticker, you’re a douche-bag. S-t-a-l-l.

Him: “Joe, did you just use a bad word?”

Me: “Handicap is not a bad word.”

Him: “That’s not the one I’m talking about.”

Crawl – When you’re too drunk to walk, you can always crawl upstairs to bed. C-r-a-w-l.

Him: “Joe, is this something you’ve done?”

Me: “Uhm, err, no.”

Awful – That dirt you ate because someone dared you to tasted awful, didn’t it? A-w-f-u-l.

Him: “Dirt does taste awful.”

Is stinky bad?

Is stinky bad?

Me: “Thus speaketh the voice of experience.”

Because – Take a shower just because you’re stinky. B-e-c-a-u-s-e.

Him: “Hey!!!”

After we reviewed the words, it was time to practice for realzies. We took out a bag of M&Ms. We emptied them on the table. For every one he got right, he got one. For every one he got wrong, I got one.

After the first run through, I had eaten 8.

Yum!

This could be the best game ever!

After the 2nd try, I had 4. For me, this was not going in a good direction, but at least he was beginning to nail the word ‘caution’.

The hardest word turned out to be faucet. I mean, look at cough. Why not spell it ghousit? I got to eat about 10 more candies before he finally got that last one consistently right .

But he was ready for the test.

And, on Friday, he got 18/18.

Awesome. A-W-E-S-O-M-E. Awesome.

He got to eat a whole bag of M&Ms by himself.

******

For me amazing insights into the world of parenting, please check out my other blog.

And thanks for taking time to read our blogs!

The school of real life

real-life-school

Silk’s Post #152 — Learning to be a writer requires honing many skills, from the obvious – like proficiency with grammar, narrative and plot structure – to the less anticipated, including more than a passing acquaintance with marketing and development of a steely, independent work ethic. Successful writers today are less likely to be dreamy-eyed scribblers or muse-driven obsessives as they are to be disciplined entrepreneurs.

My point is that, given the right temperament and a reasonable modicum of talent, all this can be learned by the wannabe writer. And there’s no shortage of learning opportunities out there, from formal classes leading to degrees, to conferences, workshops, online courses, and a plethora of books and publications.

But storytelling – well, there’s a different skill set entirely. For me, a great storyteller is able to capture the attention and imagination of readers, engage them emotionally in the narrative, and make them care as deeply about the characters and the outcome as if the story truly affected their own personal lives.

As Helga discussed in her heartfelt post, “Dare to open that vein”, that kind of authentic storytelling comes from the writer’s own emotional capacity, borne of experience.

I might dare to say that there’s only one place to learn to be a storyteller: the school of real life.

The heart and soul of it is the ability to feel emotion and share it in a way that compels readers to feel it too. But is it enough to have deeply experienced life’s emotional ups and downs yourself? And if you have led an “ordinary” life that’s relatively free of wild adventure, high drama, emotional pinnacles, sharp reversals, and personal trauma – does that condemn you to a narrow range of shallow emotions as a writer? Or is there more to it than that?

Helga’s post got me thinking about this. I’ve read works by fantastic storytellers who write with emotional authenticity born of eventful, even adventuresome, lives. Helga gave some wonderful examples, like Ernest Hemingway and John Le Carré, and it’s easy add others such as Mark Twain and Sebastian Junger. But I’ve also read deeply engaging, emotionally charged stories by authors who’ve never done anything much more exciting than sit in a coffee shop, tapping out a tale on their laptop.

So what’s the magic ingredient?

Perhaps it’s how the writer engages in her own life, and the lives of others around her. How she interacts with the people and places in her life’s narrative. How she opens up and drinks it in, makes herself emotionally available to her experiences. How she observes people and their behaviour. How she empathizes with them. How she imagines the stories she sees played out in short, unfinished chapters at the coffee shop, on the street, in the airport, at a glimpsed accident or crime scene, even in newsclips on television. How she opens her eyes rather than turning away, and notices details and nuances. How she lets herself experience not only her own narrative, but also, vicariously, what happens to others. How she engages, pays rapt attention, rather than tuning out.

It seems to me this way of experiencing life takes three things: you must be naturally curious, you must be keenly observant, and you must be deeply empathetic. These are all major contributors to intuition, which I think is not so much a magical sense as a way of looking at and thinking about the world around you.

I suspect most people believe they’re doing all these things already, that they know “what’s going on”. But I’m always surprised at how many people I interact with who seem to walk through their lives in state of semi-awareness, at best.

They’re the ones who aren’t really paying attention to what others are saying, because they’re too busy inside their own heads, thinking about what they’re going to say next. They’re the ones who fail to notice when someone close by is in silent distress, or when there’s a disturbance in their peripheral vision, or when a comment made in a group of people chills the air and turns postures rigid. They’re the ones who miss their openings to probe a novel topic, or to watch an interesting scenario play out.

The real world has an unlimited treasure of things to learn, and where there are people, there are stories fuelled by the full range of emotions. I believe that if you study and appreciate people and what animates them, even in the most ordinary of circumstances, you can use those insights to create memorable characters facing extraordinary circumstances – from heroes to villains.

And if you get the characters right, characters that resonate, characters that jump off the page, then all the rest is, in a sense, circumstantial. A stage set. It’s the people who act, who drive the narrative forward, and who take your readers with them on their journey.

There are unlimited insights to learn in the school of real life, there for the taking. All you need to do is pay attention with open mind and open heart.

 

 

Dare to open that vein

images_006

Credit: Soulsonpage

Helga’s Post # 123:    Whenever I am afflicted with writers’ block (a frequent occurrence), I am reminded of a quote that uses a chilling metaphor to describe the difficult process of composition: The famous quote, one that most writers are familiar with, is this:

‘There’s nothing to writing. Just open a vein and bleed.’

I would think that a good many wannabe writers would rush for the razor without hesitation if taken literally, if that were all it takes to write a good book.

Replacing the metaphor with more realistic tools, what does it mean? At the danger of over-simplifying the quote’s meaning, the more life experience a writer has, the better the chance he/she will write a great book, perhaps even a bestseller (assuming a certain level of writing skills). But not just ‘experience’. Anything is an experience, lining up at the super market, taking the dog out, whatever. Life challenges might be more accurate. And the steeper the challenges, the deeper the valleys that life has carved out for you, the more likely you will be able to ‘open a vein and bleed’. Not always, but there’s a good chance that writers who took it on the chin for much or part of their life will write stories that resonate, stories that readers will remember. Not only remember, but they’ll be chewing their fingernails waiting for your next book to appear in their favorite bookstore.

Take these examples:

One writer leads a straightforward, uncomplicated life. He has travelled widely. He has a decent job but is bored because it doesn’t really challenge him. There are no conflicts in his daily routine or only minor ones, no complicated relationships. He has never had to worry about money and he has never been betrayed, simply because he doesn’t feel close enough to anyone that it would matter. Never felt much passion for anything, never felt the agony or ecstasy over falling in love or being abandoned or watching a loved one die. He thinks he is happy by the sheer absence of calamities in his life, but he has no way of measuring it. Such a person could become a reasonably good travel writer or write a suspense story based on a simple plot and lots of action rather than interesting, three-dimensional characters. But he would be hard pressed to ‘open a vein and bleed’ in his writing.

Another writer lives a life full of contradictions. She has glimpsed heaven and hell in equal measure (or better yet, has lived through more hell than heaven). She has suffered difficult relationships, has experienced delirious happiness when falling in love, and felt the heart-wrenching agony of losses when she was abandoned or lost a loved one to illness. She has experienced financial calamities as well as betrayals. She has a checkered past that would make Lady Chatterly blush and therefore hasn’t shared it with anyone, even her closest friends. But she has no regrets. Everything she does, she does with passion, or she won’t do it at all. She has learned from mistakes, of which there were many. Instead of wallowing in misery and turning bitter she has chalked them up as necessary training ground to become stronger and more independent. She leads a roller coaster life without ever a boring moment.

Who has more to give to their readers? Who is willing to open a vein and bleed profusely, making it part of their story?

All this is self-evident. So, what’s the point?

For one, it’s a great tool for readers to choose quality books. Books that not only entertain while we are reading them, but that stay with us long after we have read ‘The End’. Sometimes years after we’ve read them. Books that have the potential to change us, that’s how deeply they touch us. Stories that we can’t stop thinking about, because their characters are so real we feel we have met them in person. Relationships between them have depths of emotions we may never have known exist, let alone experienced. Or else we have experienced something similar to the story and can relate to the author’s version, remembering and identifying with our own past. With our own bleeding vein.

When choosing your next book to read, take a look at the author’s bio. Does he/she know about their subject matter from their own life experience? We are all familiar with Hemingway’s illustrious life and how he managed to mirror that in his writing. Or, take Sean Slater, a bestselling author and personal friend (in fact he was the original founder of our writers’ group). A police officer in real life, his books are brimming with events that ring true because many of them are. He has lived them and he effectively weaves  them into his stories.  Another example is one of my pet authors, John LeCarre. He has lived the life of a spy, so he knows how to write about it with authority and authenticity. It helps that he is a man of great intelligence, passion and awesome writing talent. He is well in his eighties now but you wouldn’t know it from the way he writes those wonderful love stories that are always an important part of his books.

I think these are pretty good criteria for selecting your next good book. (Depending of course on what kind of reader you are). Better yet, why not write one? If you are reading this blog it’s likely that you too have chalked up a lot of interesting life experience that can be mined for your next writing project. And if you are not in a hurry to get published so you can pay your next months’ rent, you will add more material to your arsenal for later use. Meanwhile, live those passions that we so love to read about, regardless of your age, because we are never really too old for that.

Oscar Wilde got it right when he said, ‘To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.’

 

The magic of fear in writing

Karalee’s Post #132

fearI was musing the other day, thinking about all the emotions and sensations people go through during their lives. Most of us at some point have felt excitement, joy, peace, terror, pain, sadness, ecstasy, fear, happiness, contentment, anxiety, cold, hot, restless, panicked, relaxed, blissful, etc.

Then, in my writer’s way, I wondered  what underlies all the bad feelings and what can change all the good ones into bad ones. I realized that the common denominator is FEAR.

The definition of fear is:  an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

The magic of this definition for writers is the word belief.

Think about that. We can make our characters believe anything we want. We create their lives from inception to death, building their belief system through their experiences, and those experiences can trigger reactions and behaviors throughout their lives.

Why is fear so magical? Fear is a great motivator for action to get away from the danger that is likely to cause pain or threaten the character. The fear can be up front and physical like getting run over by a truck, or a swarm of bees heading your way. Fear can also be perceived in one’s mind. Now that’s magical. It’s also endless in the scenarios that can be conjured by the hand of a writer. Inside one’s mind is where psychological manifestations blossom, where beliefs flourish whether they are true or false.

For example, if a character was bitten by a dog when he was a child, he may panic when he hears a dog bark even if the dog is locked inside and can’t harm him. Even more powerful, the character could panic at the mere thought of a dog being close by even if there is no dog at all. The truth here is that there is no danger at all, but the character can still be in a state of fear.

Fear is a great tension builder. It’s the monster under the bed, the darkness hiding all the bad things in the night, it’s one’s imagination running terrifyingly free in one’s mind. Its a veritable treasure chest for a writer to pull from.

Does happiness or excitement compel characters to flee, or murder, or do other criminal acts? Or is it the fear of losing someone you love that causes you to murder the lover? It certainly isn’t in the moment of happiness that characters do bad things.

I can’t think of another emotion that’s as strong and compelling as fear to make characters engage in extreme actions to get away from danger or the threat of danger whether it’s real or perceived.

Can you?

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Perspective Photos:

cypress snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bird in snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Writing for fun???

Joe’s Post #163

When did writing become ‘not fun’?

If there's one thing Buddy the Elf knows, it's fun!

If there’s one thing Buddy the Elf knows, it’s fun!

Well, never, really, but there is an aspect of writing that has become a chore and Silk’s post made me realize what.

It’s the idea that the goal – that of getting published – becomes more important than the process of writing. The goal is fraught with all sorts of pitfalls, rejections, and nights curled up in the corner with a carton of ice cream, binge watching Teletubbies on Netflix.

Oh sure, I love do my blog posts, especially my justjoebc blog about being a stepdad, and that’s writing, too, righ?  But tackling a novel, well, that’s a whole different type of writing.

I used to love it. I did. I wrote a good 4 or 5 of them before that love began to fade. And it faded due to a perceived failure on my part. A failure to write well enough, or create a good enough query letter or whatever.

And that failure can drag you down.

Cuz it’s about the goal.

So what if I looked at the process, again?

Why do I love to blog?

Cuz I don’t ever worry about the outcome. I have no goal at this point. One day I would love to pitch the idea of a book about a clueless stepdad trying to figure it all out, but for now, I just write.

As well, with a blog, you’re done quickly. You tell your little story of the day and move on. It’s that simple. No worrying about structure or character or theme or how to integrate a love story into the plot.

Being me, I wondered, could I still have some fun writing something other than a blog? Or a novel?

So, last night, I did just that. I wrote out a short story. 3388 words. Not a long story to be sure, not even one that has a market, but one that was fun to write.

And it was fun. I lost myself in the words. I didn’t stress about hooks or proper attributions or clever rhetorical gimmicks, I simply wrote what was in my head and put it into the computer.

Sort of like what I do with the blog.

So, then why can’t I find a way to do that with my novel?

Technically my book is before this event by a few days.

Technically my book is before this event by a few days.

More thinking will be required, but for now I’m substituting routine for passion. Sort of a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ thing. I get up, write a bit for fun, take a break, then write on my novel until noon. So far I’ve managed to get anywhere from 3 pages to 12 done per day done. Not stellar production, sure, but forward progress, nevertheless, and such progress will eventually allow me to complete another novel.

But that idea of making it fun, again, intrigues me.

I want to get back to that when I write a novel.

I’m just not sure I can clear out all the clutter in my head to do so.

Any ideas?

 

Is writing child’s play?

playtime

Silk’s Post #151 — I found myself in a playful mood at the keyboard the other day, and suddenly two unbidden questions formed just above my head, like cartoon balloons.

The first was: Why don’t I feel like this more often? The other was: What’s the difference, really, between work and play?

I quickly concluded the first question would be difficult to answer, probably requiring some couch time with a mental health professional. (As it turns out, I now believe I was overly pessimistic about finding the answer, and overly self-centred in thinking my playfulness deficit and longing for more of it is at all extraordinary – but more on that later.)

On the question of the distinction between work and play, I expected to easily find received wisdom with a few clicks. Perhaps there would not be total consensus, but surely such an elemental question would have been deliberately examined thoroughly enough to have been distilled into two or three theoretical camps. Maximum.

But it was not as easy as that.

I found myself at a fork in the road, where the sign marked “play” pointed one way, and the one marked “work” pointed the other. A bit of cyber hiking revealed a lightly explored wilderness between the two camps. It seems “play” occupies a space exclusively populated by children, except in special multi-generational compounds designed for structured activities like drama, sports, or music. On the other hand, the “work” zone is, more or less, an adult gated community.

So, is that the answer, then? Play is for children and work is for adults? This seems very wrong to me. But, as a writer who has been struggling with the balance between the regimented discipline of work and the creative anarchy of imagination, the question feels important. Existential, maybe. It begs a more satisfying answer.

I mean, come on. Two little four-letter words we use every day. You can’t tell me we don’t objectively know what we mean when we say “work” or “play”.

But if there’s a simple definition about the difference between them (and their relationship to each other), I didn’t find it. Is work-play a continuum with varying degrees of combination, like a mixing tap for hot and cold water? Is there one (or more) key differentiator that separates work and play, some litmus test? Is play just practice, a learning strategy, a training ground for a life of work? Is the experience of work or play entirely subjective, all about attitude, all in the eye of the beholder?

There are some enlightened professionals around who are broadening their horizons regarding play – looking beyond childhood development, where it is well-recognized as critically important to development of physical, social, mental, emotional, moral and creative skills. There does appear to be dawning recognition of play as a vital, lifelong companion to work, perhaps in response to the age-old lament “youth is wasted on the young.”

Wouldn’t adults benefit equally from experiencing this effect of play, described in a pamphlet from Play Wales, a national organization for children’s play? …

Play is a spontaneous and active process in which thinking, feeling and doing can flourish; when we play we are freed to be inventive and creative. In play, everything is possible with reality often disregarded and imagination and free-flow thinking taking precedence.

To me, this sounds like the ideal state of mind for a writer. An interesting series of articles by Dr. Peter Gray in Psychology Today (check out “The Value of Play”) suggests these five attributes of play (paraphrased from Gray):

Play is self-chosen and self-directed; players are always free to quit – Play is an expression of freedom. We do it because we want to, not because we have to (or because someone is making us do it).

Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends – What we value most, when we are not playing, are the results of our actions (i.e., meeting a goal, solving a problem, earning a reward), while in play this is reversed: we engage in play primarily for its own sake, even though there may be intrinsic goals within the play activity itself. The corollary (an important one when play is applied to creative pursuits like writing) is that fear of failure is absent or diminished.

Play is guided by mental rules – While play is a freely chosen activity, it is not without shape and form; self-imposed rules are conceived to guide and stimulate choices, problem solving, actions, imagination and (in social play) shared understanding – all of which imbue play with satisfying (but not threatening) challenges.

Play is non-literal, imaginative, marked off in some way from reality – Play is serious yet not serious, real yet not real; it is a work of imagination – a “let’s pretend” fantasy – like a novel that is based on, reflects and experiments with reality, but is fictional.

Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind – Because play demands our active engagement and creativity – but emphasizes process rather than outcome – it challenges and stimulates us in a low-stress manner; play is only possible when we fully focus on the “here and now” without being constantly distracted by the past and future (i.e. goal-oriented pressure to perform, which is a creativity killer).

Gray does note that children are more capable of engaging in pure, 100 percent play than adults, citing his four-year-old son’s ability to stay completely in-character as Superman for days at a time. He suggests that adults more often experience some mix of play (imaginative fantasy) and work (disciplined reality), depending on their activity and attitude. He estimated his work-to-play ratio in writing his blog post as 20/80 – obviously a man who loves to write.

In fact, 20/80 is my new personal goal for work-to-play ratio when I’m writing!

In my December post, 5 more overlooked emotions, I suggested playfulness as an “emotion” to spice up your characters:

This important emotion is too often dismissed as frivolous. Well, it’s not. Maybe it makes you think of puppies and kittens. I believe that a sense of playfulness is the bright face of curiosity (the dark face of curiosity is usually termed “morbid”).

There’s all kinds of serious brain science behind this passion for understanding, but it starts in childhood in the pure form of play. Although psychological research into adult playfulness is apparently in its infancy (“probably because it wasn’t deemed worthy enough,” bemoans University of Zurich psychologist René Proyer), it has been highly correlated to academic performance, active lifestyles, good coping skills, creativity, and attractiveness to members of the opposite sex.

People like playful people … So if you want to make readers love your character a little more, let him be playful. Maybe some of it will rub off on you!

What I discovered when I searched for insights into adult play was that all the good quotes were, without exception, attributed to creative people. Aha! Yet another piece of evidence that life imitates art. For your amusement and contemplation, here are some of the best:

“Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.” (from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) — Mark Twain

“The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.” — G. K. Chesterton

“The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” — Arnold J. Toynbee

“Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything, than when we are at play.” — Charles E. Schaefer

“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.” — John Cleese

“Genius is play, and man’s capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.” — William Saroyan

“This is the real secret of life – to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” — Alan W. Watts

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” — John Lennon

So, I think I have my answers – or perhaps I should say I’ve found the inspiration I was looking for …

Why don’t I feel playful more often? As with most people whose youth is behind them, life has conspired to turn me into a work-headed adult. Goal-oriented. Realistic. Mostly serious. In the course of “making something of myself” over the decades, I’ve been taught to associate play with relaxation and recreation, not accomplishment and creation. This is a difficult thing to unlearn, as it gets hard-wired in your brain. Yet in the past few years since I’ve been trying to become a writer, I’ve (finally) gained a different perspective.

If I want to write, I need to learn to play again. Focus on the game instead of always the goal. Let fantasy push reality aside sometimes. Make fun of being serious and get serious about making fun. Is this not the most congenial prescription ever? As Br’er Rabbit cried so eloquently, “Please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me in dat brier-patch.”

What’s the difference, really, between work and play?  The difference between work and play seems to come down to the attitude and perspective you bring to what you do. If you’re fortunate enough to have choices, and especially if you’re creatively inclined, you can turn a good chunk of your life into a playground. How play relates to writing is so obvious, I can’t believe I didn’t really “get it” automatically, but had to pursue the concept and process it in my analytical left brain before the epiphany came.

But even mundane or stressful tasks with seemingly limited opportunities for fun or creativity can be re-cast by a play-full mind. Some lucky people can turn anything into play. Peeling potatoes. Making sales pitches. Caring for a patient. Painting a house. I’m convinced of that now. And it’s an incredibly empowering revelation. Probably should be a religion. Maybe I’ll start one.

 


Note to readers:  Where’s the 5/5/5 box score? It’s a new year and a fresh start, but it’s pretty obvious that I’m just getting some traction on my writing practice again. Getting back up to speed didn’t magically happen when the clock struck midnight on December 31st. My hope is to re-start my weekly progress reports with my next blog post. Stay tuned!

Feel your own emotions

Karalee’s Post #131

fear quote

I’m one of those non-resolution type of people, telling myself that most people don’t follow through and I don’t want to be one of “those.”

Goals though, are another breed. They are the GPS to success, the voice from the black box guiding you along your chosen path to the end point to where “you have arrived.” Truth told, goals are the fraternal twin to resolutions.

So what do resolution avoidance and goal setting have to do with feeling my emotions? Both push me outside of my comfort zone where suddenly the unknown creeps in. What if this happens? or that? or I don’t get it done on schedule? or at all?

The above quote from Steven King says it all.

I realize that my emotions around goal setting tend to be negative rather than positive. They are fear based. Why? Goals should be something I want to achieve, right? They should excite me and push me to do things I don’t normally do to get what I haven’t yet gotten.

Ha! Does this sound like what writers try to get their characters to do?

With this in mind, I stopped and let myself feel the fear behind the goals that I’ve set for myself this year. I’ve never consciously done this before and it’s an interesting experience you may want to try as well. I believe it could help us writers be more in tune with what’s behind our character’s emotions. We could do this with other reactions we have too, and unravel the life experiences that give rise to the way we react whether happy, sad, angry, feeling vulnerable or distrusting, loving, hateful, etc.

For now though, I’m looking at where my fears may be coming from.

  1. Fear of success. This sounds odd to me, but it comes from being put down in childhood for liking school and excelling at it. Country kids are “supposed” to hate school.
  2. Fear of failure. This is a dichotomy when I fear success and failure! To me failure is more self-imposed, like I could have, should have, but didn’t. This is true when I don’t tell anyone my goals, then the only one that knows is me. If I do tell others and fail, then it evokes shame which means I am concerned about how others perceive me. Intellectually I know that what others think shouldn’t matter, but again, one’s past experiences builds these reactions.
  3. Fear of certain activities, like answering the phone and opening mail. Now that’s bizarre when I let that one sink in. These are frequent activities I have to do for my work and I do have an aversion to them, but I have never really let the reasons come to light. When I do, I know I react like this because of the number of times that bad news has come to me through these avenues. It leaves me dreading the “call” instead of dancing to the phone when it rings (or my cell phone) in anticipation of winning the lottery or simply talking to a friend.
  4. Fear of “NO.” In direct sales this is a biggy since 80% of people say no! As children, parent’s ‘no’s” far exceed their “yes’s” and “no” has a direct connection to not being able to do what you want to do. I’ve worked hard this year to not take no’s personally, and the difference it’s made in my life in general has given me freedom to relax and be myself. Letting my experience of no’s be emotionally neutral rather than negative has given me more peace than I ever imagine.

Going through this exercise and really paying attention to why I react and feel deep-seated emotions in certain situations has opened my awareness to also do this with characters in my stories. Backstories are huge in developing characters and to feel the why behind how we make our characters react emotionally will help create more authentic characters.

Giving opposite reactions to what one would expect can also be done this way when you understand the why’s in the character’s history.

Have fun with it!

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Productivity: I’ve heard back from one of the short story contests. I got a very nice standard rejection letter. Keep at it is one of my goals.

Motivation: My goals include taking courses with well-known people in the industry to learn how to follow-through and time-manage, etc. On my list are: Jack Canfield,  Eric Worre, Kim Klaver and Harv Eker and Sonia Stringer

Happy Moments:

  • holiday time spent with family and friends
  • snowshoeing on the local mountains with my husband, David.
  • continuing self-development and loving it!

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Perspective Photos:

frost

 

 

 

 

 

 

bird in hand

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

 

 

Banish the beast

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Helga’s Post #122 —  The start of a new year is upon us, the symbolic signal to push the reset button. It’s an opportunity to let go of last year’s failures and disappointments and to embark on new beginnings. As Joe put it so succinctly in his recent post, whatever happened last year, simply ‘fuggetaboudit’.

New beginnings are always good. Imagine if we wouldn’t be able to have them. It would feel like being in a swamp with your feet stuck in mud, unable to move forward or back. Just stuck in untold misery and boredom. Even those who lead a satisfying life or believe they have a happy life, would do well to push that reset button. Just like nature, we all need renewal of some kind to keep us engaged in life and to experience it to its fullest potential.

I too have pushed that reset button on a number of levels. Getting used to single life in all its implications, for one. On a practical level it meant to acquire skills I never had, and to learn them in a hurry. Using tools that I never held in my hand before, learning about the mechanics of running a house, and chasing elusive plumbers, electricians, and my all time favorite, cable technicians. I am not complaining (too much) though. In fact, I get satisfaction from becoming self-sufficient and realizing, hey, I can do this too, on my own.

A new writing project is also part of the reset button. It started last year, but I decided to abandon it after the first three chapters. The characters were one-dimensional. They were in their mid-thirties, which is the age of a high percentage of characters in commercial fiction. I decided to start something different. More mature characters. That too is a reset button. I spoke to the local librarian recently, asking about the demographics of patrons. Not surprisingly, it’s people over sixty and up. And what kind of books do you think they most likely want to read about?

Romance. Yes, romance, was the overwhelming answer. Not necessarily strictly books in the romance genre, but any book that has romance as an important component. It can even be a mystery, or a suspense novel, no matter. To my mind come John LeCarre’s books. Inevitably, his novels have a beautiful, intense love story embedded in his hard-hitting espionage theme.

This caused me to reconsider my choice of demographics for the main characters in my work in progress. No thirty-somethings this time. Aside from the cookie-cutter cliché, at that age people haven’t yet acquired the hard life experience that shape and define more mature characters.

Have I made the right choice? I will know as I continue writing the story. I realize it’s risky, but to quote George Burns, I’d rather be a failure at something I enjoy, than a success at something I hate.

With that in mind, I will keep my post short so I can get back to real writing.

I wish you all a successful reset for the year ahead. Above all, don’t forget to live. Dance as if no one’s watching; sing as if no one’s listening, and live every day as if it were your last. And write as if no one will ever read your work.

Banish the beast, your internal editor. That’s when we can truly write with abandon.

Fuggetaboudit

Joe’s Post #162

Happy New Year everyone! It's time to clear the deck and start again.

Happy New Year everyone! It’s time to clear the deck and start again.

Shhh. I’ll let you in on a secret.

One of the great things about a new year is that you can put away all the things that you didn’t do last year and just fuggetaboudit. That’s right.

Fuggetaboudit.

Didn’t write enough? Didn’t lose weight? Didn’t succeed at any of your last year’s resolutions? Fuggetaboudit.

I got a fistful of rejections for my novella. Fuggetaboudit. I lost faith and didn’t get it out, again. Fuggetabuoudit.

Hey, it’s a new year. Make resolutions or not. Make plans, or not. Make goals, or not. It’s all ok. You have a fresh start. All of 2015 is in the past. 2016 awaits! The road is open and stretches out before you. Make the most of it.

For me, I think I should have written more, though I wrote more blog posts last year than any other. I should have gotten that novel done, though I did pound out a novella in a month. But that’s all in 2015, remember?

Fuggetaboudit.

It’s a new year.

Can you feel the power of it?

Do you feel freed by the arrival of Jan 1st 2016?

Can you smell what the Rock is cooking here?

It’s a way of letting go of that negativity that sometimes drags me (and maybe others) down. That anchor of regret over things not done, or of goals failed.

So I’m looking at 2016 as a fresh start. And I know just how to begin.

Silk wrote a great post about going listless. I could no more do such a thing than I could birth a book out of my nose. I need lists.

Everyone needs a book of grudges!

Everyone needs a book of grudges!

They are my attempt to stay sane in a disorganized and cruelly chaotic universe. So this year, like last year, I will attempt to remain in marginal control of my life with detailed and often cross-referenced lists.

The only difference this year will be that when the year is done, I won’t beat myself up over what I didn’t accomplish. Lists are simply too important, too vital, to be used for evil. They should help build you up, not tear you down.

So while a useful tool for me being all organized and stuff, once 2016 is past, it’ll be time to once again, fuggetaboudit.

So what will you fuggetaboud from last year?

(And if I didn’t make it clear enough, here’s Johnny Depp explaining the many other meanings of forget about it.)

Listless and without a resolution

2016-beach

Silk’s Post #150 — Okay, I admit it. I’m a list addict. And I’ve also been known to make (and later break) many lists of New Year’s resolutions over the years.

This year will be different. I’m boldly going listless and resolution-free into 2016.

Okay, granted. We do need lists, calendars and the like to manage necessary, everyday chores with some semblance of efficiency. Grocery lists. Appointments. Or even slightly more aspirational, semi-optional tasks like cleaning out that closet. But do wishful items like “be nicer” or “get back to your weight when you were 18” or “write 1,000 words per day, everyday” really belong on a list?

Forget it! My theory is that if a task is, by its nature, fantastical or never-ending then it doesn’t belong on a to-do list. Items on lists are there to be crossed out, not to haunt you forever.

It’s not that I don’t have goals. And my memory (or occasional lack thereof) does demand that I rely on the crutch of a list now and then. But what I’m giving up for 2016 is the type of list that’s really a litany of promises to yourself that you feel guilty about breaking in the past, and are now pledging once again to keep. Oh, sure, you’re determined. This time you’ll succeed.

Or not.

It’s an inexplicably popular way to start the New Year – this annual confession of past sins, and the penance of try-trying-again. It swells the gym population in January, and spikes the sale of diet books and un-yummy health foods like kale and quinoa.

For writers it leads to word count goals, writing space reorganization, and plans for daily work regimens.

Unfortunately, for most of us, most of these good intentions have escaped from the barn, jumped the fence and are long gone by February or March, leaving a galloping guilt hangover. And the problem with guilt – especially for people who expect a lot of themselves and don’t react very well to failure – is that “getting right back on the horse” is often not what happens next. Instead, guilt triggers the self-defeating reaction of avoiding the horse altogether.

Horse? What horse?

And what then? Momentum is lost. The excuses and justifications begin. And the whole issue becomes a sore subject. For a writer, this means hoping that no well-meaning person will ask you how your book is coming along.

There’s got to be a better way. So here’s my plan for 2016: stop setting myself up for failure.

Despite all the conventional wisdom, I think lists and pledges and resolutions are basically sticks masquerading as carrots. Do lists of ambitious promises and rules really inspire people and make them succeed? I have my doubts.

I think what energizes people – what drives them toward a goal – is passion. Pure and simple. And you don’t manufacture passion by writing it down. It has to be felt, in the moment. Passion is a burning fire, not a commandment carved in stone, or some kind of a contract that must be fulfilled.

Neither can creativity be brought to life through a written-down prescription. Writers block does not dissolve in the acid of anxiety caused by your failure to be productive or live up to a pledge. If anything, fear of failure paralyzes rather than empowers.

Lists and resolutions come from the left brain. Creativity and inspiration come from the right brain. And the juice of passion gushes from the limbic brain. See my point? When it comes to getting your writing mojo on in the coming year, a list of New Year’s resolutions may be focusing on exactly the wrong part of your brain.

So how to stimulate and bring forth the impassioned writer inside you, coax out the muse who’s reluctant to show her face?

Here’s something ridiculously simple that I’m going to try: I’ll wake up every morning and – instead of immediately consulting my mental checklist of “things I have to do today” – I will take a few minutes to think about my story first. What happens next in the plot? What problems need to be worked out? What characters need some attention? Where can I take it today?

That’s it.

I will try to keep hooking myself on my story, keep firing up my creativity. Every morning. And then I’ll try to make the time to act on it. As much time as I can devote to it that day. Let my right brain rule. Feed my passion.

And let my left brain, and all its task-oriented priorities, wait their turn for a change.

I think I’ve finally learned, after several years of calling myself a writer, the reason my good intentions have not led to good writing “discipline”. Ironically, I thought that part would be easy, since I built a lot of discipline muscle in my 35-year career as the owner and creative director of a design and ad agency. But since I shifted gears to try my hand as a novelist, I’ve forgotten the obvious. Management discipline runs on logic and strategy. Creative discipline runs on emotion and exploration. Different brain cells. Different rules. And the twain don’t always meet.

If I want to take writing seriously – and I do – it can’t just be chore on my to-do list, though I have committed to finishing my book. It can’t just be a job, though I do accept the hard work required. It can’t be just about getting published, though it is important to me to share my words.

For me, writing has to be a true passion. It has to reward me in the moment of creation, the same way that doing a painting transports an artist, and making music feeds the soul of a musician. It has to be the thing I just can’t wait to do, the thing that makes me feel joyful, the thing that connects my heart to my mind.

When you have a passion, you can feed it – or you can starve it. If you don’t always keep it close to your heart, it withers.

I’ve come to recognize that the discipline, energy and focus it requires for me to write can only be generated by passion, fuelled by my love of storytelling. Simple truth: if I’m not feeling the love, I’m not getting it done. Making more pledges to be more disciplined isn’t going to work for me. What I need to do is renew and cultivate my passion for writing.

That’s why I’m going to take it day by day. Try to start off each morning, in those first moments of waking, thinking about my book. Letting myself be inspired, getting back into the story before all the other demands of the day flood in and replace my passion with … a list of chores.

I admit this is almost the polar opposite of the bootcamp approach, and maybe it sounds a little airy-fairy. Will this regime call my muse out, awaken my creativity and fire up my discipline?

We shall see. Stay tuned.

Happy New Year to all!