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!

 

 

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!

What happened to pen and paper?

Karalee’s Post #130

Jot it downLast week I had one of those aha moments, the kind that’s hard to admit because it is so obvious. The kind that the young these days call a brain fart.

It happened while I was driving around doing my daily work, fitness, errands and chores. A typical day until I actually noted and listened to that little voice in my head that kept whispering like a mantra of sorts.

“I can’t write right now. My computer is at home.”

It became painfully obvious that I’ve been using this as my excuse to NOT get my writing done. Throughout every day, and I mean every day, I have a few minutes here and there that I could be jotting ideas down. Heck, many of my “great” ideas come while I’m driving and my subconscious is diverted. It’s the equivalent to other people singing in the shower and the idea bulb suddenly lighting up in the mind like a movie set.

The thought can be so strong that it makes you rush naked and dripping out of the shower to write it down before it slips away down the drain along with your soaped up water.

Wait!

Did I say you rush to write it down? On what?

Do you risk dripping water on your computer? Maybe you grab a pen and write that brilliant thought down on good old-fashioned PAPER?

Aha! I  could do that in my vehicle.

I could stop at the curb, pull out pen and paper and jot my ideas down. Easy peasy and as obvious as a pimple on one’s nose.

Joe’s post this week If Writers Had Drill Sergeants was meant to be if you believe in Karma. Imagine what I can accomplish in a 45 minute burst with my ideas already written down and saved on paper, real paper, and not buried back in my subconscious. My pages could be pounded out so fast and furious that I’d burn my fingertips from the keyboard friction. I’d feel so euphoric that I would be Battling the Monster; writers and mental health like in Paula’s last post and I’d be cured of depression and self-doubts, and, and, and….

Can all this be because of pen and paper and simply saving my ideas? Intuitively I feel like a weight has been lifted and unhealthy ties severed between myself and having to have my computer handy in order to write at all. I don’t need to isolate myself in my office.

Also, I don’t need to take my computer everywhere with me, and find an outlet, and WiFi.

I could even go away for a weekend without it! My computer doesn’t rule all.

When I outline a novel idea I do it on a big roll of children’s drawing paper from Ikea. I use pencil. I draw circles and lines and write on the sides. I put in my timelines and dates and use different colors. I drink coffee and pace the floor. I walk outside to clear my head. I have FUN and it’s always with good old paper and pen ( or pencils).

It’s after this initial burst of creativity that I start to rely on the computer. I organize my chapters and research and character development using Scrivener. It’s a great tool and I love using it. I could also make Scrivener work for me when I’m not home and the ideas rolling around in my head start to surface. It’s easy to print out the last chapter I’m on, or a scene I’m fiddling with, or even the character development folder. I could take paper with me. I could jot stuff down on it. I could let my imagination go wild.

Then when I take those ideas and enter them into the computer it’s almost like the second draft. At this point Joe’s Drill Sergeant can take over.

Do other writers out there feel completely reliant on their computers to get any and all of their writing done? I think this is a mindset that many of us have fallen into.

I’m going to let go of my computer umbilical cord for a few minutes here and there every day and get back to keeping a notebook with me. And a pen. I know my creativity flows all day. I will jot it all down.

I will write on paper.

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Productivity: I’m at the midpoint of my third short story. I will print it out and take my pen and some more paper with me from the house. I will let you know next week how it works for me.

Motivation:  I’m following The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. The book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is on my bedside table along with Dalai Lama’s book The Art of Happiness.

Happy Moments:

  • walking on the powdery snow-like beaches around Tampa Bay, Florida last week with my hubby and friends.
  • the heat in the sun in Florida
  • visiting the Chihuly Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida
  • my daughter dropping by with a list of recipes for us to bake for Christmas goodies. She has great taste.

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Perspective Photos:

 

chihuly glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chihuly boat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

 

Why I write

Karalee’s Post #129

lake reflectionMy writing productivity has gone up and down with my life’s rhythm. I don’t consider myself one of those born with a pen in hand, although my mother tells me that I was an insatiable talker from the moment I could form words. From that perspective, I’ve always had the need to express myself.

I was good in English at school and truly enjoyed reading and writing stories. I never thought of it as a passion or my life’s calling since my absolute goal after high school was to go to university and move out of the small town I grew up in. The big city excitement was an irresistible magnet and an expression of my independence.

Becoming a writer or storyteller didn’t suit those early expectations of mine. I enrolled in the science faculty which later lead to the medical faculty and a degree in Rehabilitation Medicine. I started my own physiotherapy practice and worked myself into exhaustion in the service industry.

It took a decade and I was burnt out.

Fortunately my husband and I were in a financial position that I could sell and take care of our three children. It was once the weight of being self-employed was lifted along with all the responsibilities it entailed that I took a deep breath. Almost instantly I knew it was time for me to write.

Where did that come from?

It didn’t surprise me in the least. It simply felt right.

So I set out to explore this new internal drive that seemed to be seeking me out. With the luxury of my children all in school I felt like I was in HEAVEN! Words tumbled out and my inner editor could hardly keep pace.

It was the closest I’d ever felt to euphoria.

Then that same year my husband, David, sold his software business. It sent my new and exciting routine into a completely unexpected direction as we decided to go on a family adventure on a sailboat in the Mediterranean. We planned to be away for one year.

One slid into two. The Mediterranean is a huge place with amazing history and people. Why rush back to Canada?

Did I continue to write?

Not at first.

ferry and windThe first year home schooling and traveling on our sailboat took every waking hour and many sleeping ones too as we made overnight passages. On a smallish scale map the Mediterranean can be covered by a mere thumb. On a sailboat it takes more than 24 hours to travel from the boot of Italy to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Three hour shifts while crossing the Adriatic Sea were more grueling and disrupting than midnight and early morning feedings with my three children when they were newborns. Falling asleep breastfeeding on a recliner didn’t have the same repercussions as falling asleep while under sail on a sea riddled with freighters and fishing boats.

At this time writing was not on my books so-to-speak.

Storms at sea followed by finding food on land to feed our family took all of our energy and was often overwhelming. Add in daily home-schooling and the thought of writing didn’t come to light for many months.

Don’t get me wrong, the experience was amazing for the family and we still reap the benefits of getting along and working together today. Although I had no energy to put words down, stories and my imagine were working away. Thank goodness for all the books on board as they were my sanity check and I read in short spurts before conking out at night.

The first year David taught Grade 5 and 7 to our two older children while I taught Grade 1 to our youngest. The second year we decided to share the responsibilities with me teaching one week and David the next.

On my “off” week the activity I craved to do was write. The calling was strong again and I had all day to write without any interruptions.

Pure bliss with bursts of euphoria again when I got deep in the zone with my characters and story.

That is why I write.

My productivity has been up and down with life interventions and sometimes I berate myself for not doing as much as I “should.” That’s when it’s a good time to reflect on how much I have achieved. I have spent hours learning the craft, taking courses, reading, going to conventions, learning about stuff I want to write about (aka research) and always without fail I return to put fingers to my keyboard and create a story from my imagination.

I have written three novels and a couple of handfuls of short stories.

I am proud of that.

Best of all, being in the zone when I write is where I love being. It is what keeps me coming back to writing like a junkie to drugs. Imaginations don’t age like our bodies and I will be able to continue writing as long as my brain and fingers allow. The process is like magic.

How lucky I am to have found a passion that is always there for me.

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Productivity: I have a third of my third story down on “paper.” It’s an emotional subject and I know it will pull me into the zone when I get writing this week.

Motivation:  I’m following The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. Great book to put into perspective what productive people do to get and stay in rhythm.

Happy Moments: 

  • My family was together to celebrate my birthday.
  • Unconditional love from my dogs greet me every day as I come and go from the house
  • feeling safe in my community in this chaotic world.

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Perspective Photos:

tree shadow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rope on post

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Don’t wait to write

Karalee’s Post #128

rock on beach

Our 5/5/5 group have all in our own way expressed how we try to organize ourselves to write, how procrastination is a non-starter, and how life pulls us from our offices and computers where our characters are developing and waiting to be born.

And we all know how we hate waiting.

We don’t want to wait at the doctor’s office, or the dentist, the ferry lineup, in traffic, or in the grocery line. We complain miserably about all of this waiting, yet we do it because it is part of our everyday lives or put into our lives on some sort of schedule.

Imagine then, how our characters must feel. We leave them half-formed physically, mentally and emotionally. They literally can be abandoned mid-sentence just about to be shot or die in a car or airplane, or while falling skiing with their leg in the middle of snapping as they hit a tree.

Then we return and change their names, alter their physical, mental and emotional attributes and dump them in a different situation, and then once again LEAVE them hanging.

Waiting.

How can we as writers go to bed at night knowing that we’ve abandoned someone that really needs our help to move out of the situation that we’ve put them in? Guilt should keep us awake at night every night until we have the decency to grab up our computers and do SOMETHING. Even if the situation worsens, at least it is changing and our characters aren’t suffering the same instant over and over.

Be empathetic. Imagine it’s you sitting in an airplane about to crash. You’re strapped in with the oxygen mask over your face and the plane is in a nose dive. You know you are about to die, yet it goes on and on and on. Days. Weeks. Months. Sometimes years. It goes way beyond the laws of gravity.

So I sincerely ask all the writers out there, especially my dear 5/5/5’ers, be empathetic and PLEASE keep writing so you can let your characters do what has to be done. Don’t leave them waiting any longer than necessary!

_________________________________________________________________

Short Stories Written:  Two. I committed to finishing them and that was the inspiration for this blog and the reason I didn’t get a blog written last week. I chose to keep writing. I didn’t want to leave my characters hanging in limbo while I went to bed . I wrote. I created. I finished.

Short Stories sent to Competitions:  Two. Great incentive to be kind to my characters and reach The End. Thanks Joe, for lighting the fire under me to get my work off. Now it’s a different kind of waiting game to see if my stories pass the judging stage.

Exercise:  I must be one of the three people Joe knows that runs. In the past couple of decades I’ve completed one marathon, a dozen or so half-marathons, and many 10 km races. My race days are over due to sciatica (accumulation of wear and tear on my back over the years and exacerbated from dragon boat racing). I still run 3x/week but slower and shorter. Joe is right, what the exercise is doesn’t matter, rather it’s getting out there and doing something to get the circulation and muscles working.

____________________________________________________________________

Perspective Photos:

Tammy close up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Umbrella B&W

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

Writing exercise

Joe’s Post #156 —

Germany's Irina Mikitenko runs on her way to winning the women's London Marathon April 26, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTXEE9V

Germany’s Irina Mikitenko runs on her way to winning the women’s London Marathon April 26, 2009. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Ok, so this post may not be what you think.

It’s not a quick post about a writing exercise. You know, ‘write a story with the word blueberry in the first sentence’ or ‘write your plot as a haiku while hanging upside down from a chandelier.’

No, this post was sparked by something I read in the Atlantic. La-de-dah, right?

Well, to be honest, I’m not normally an Atlantic reader, but this link came from Publisher’s Weekly, which I do read. So there.

It said, of all things, that writers like to run.

At first I thought, what the f***? I know like a hundred writers and maybe 3 of them run, and one of them is usually running to chase bad guys. So, how could this be true?

If I was to run – something I did way back when I was young (and actually enjoyed it, though they called it playing soccer) – anyway, if I was to run, I’d be too worried about how I looked, how much of me jiggled like a bowl full of jello, and why my running shorts were constantly pinching my crotch.

Plus I’d be huffing and puffing like an out-of-breath elephant and scaring children that saw me. I’d be a magnet for 911 calls.

So, yeah, not a good way to get out of my head and think about story or character or plot problems. But that’s me.

Read the article and find out for yourself.

But it got me thinking, cuz that’s what highfalutin magazines do.

What exercises do you do?

Sophia-chaser-zombie-760Me, I’m a walker. No, not a zombie walker, though if you see me before I’ve had my cup of coffee, then you might mistake me for one.

Walking, like running for some, helps me clear my head. It gets me out of my writing space which, oddly enough, sometimes inhibits the creative process, despite my collection of star wars collectible figures and inspirational writing books. As well, the fresh air helps me get in touch with my senses, again. Smell. Sound. Sights.

All good things for a writer.

I know my 5/5/5 buddies have their own writing exercises. If you read their posts, you might see the odd tennis game, gym membership or active gardening.

But I don’t think what you do matters.

What matters is that we writers get out of our basements, out of our offices, or get released from the mental institute for an hour or so. It’s way too easy to simply sit there and write, think about writing, research a new word for fornication or get lost in a google search that began with “what’s the best way to smother someone?”

Simply put, we cannot live only in our heads. We need fresh air. We need to be in the world, if only for a few hours.

It makes us better writers.

Right?

*****

Page count:  Not much over 100 pages now. I’m not proud of myself.

Queries Sent:  4.

Rejections:  Holding at 1. So far.

Blogs Written Since Last Post:  1 (not a lot new at Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise:  5 days straight.

Movies Seen:  Missed seeing Specter today because of parenting commitments.

Book I’m Reading:  Looking at David Sedaris.

 

 

Life is a mystery story

halloween

Silk’s Post #144 — Today, which happens to be Halloween, also happens to be my birthday. In my heart, I really own Halloween. I’ve always considered my birth date profoundly lucky. And, somehow, significant.

All Hallows’ Eve (or holy evening) is the night before All Saint’s Day. It’s Pagan and Christian. To ancient Celts, Samhain celebrated the end of harvest season, a liminal time for welcoming the souls of the dead who were apt to cross the threshold between their world and ours at the cusp between summer and winter. To early Christians, Allhallowtide was a time to honour and pray for dead saints, martyrs and the faithful through nighttime vigils and daytime feasts.

Sound similar? Of course. Both observances invest meaning in the turn of the seasons from warm to cold, from light to dark. And both ritualize the greatest of all mysteries: the cycle of life and death. Scary, big ideas. As the Northerners would say in Game of Thrones, “Winter Is Coming”.

As a free bonus, my birthday came along with a treasure chest of rituals, traditions, myths, symbols and celebrations, some historical and some modern. Really good, spooky ones, especially for kids. Costumes! Witches! Black cats! Ghosts! Jack-o-lanterns! Bonfires! Trick-or-treating! Mmmmmm. Candy.

But this post is more than just a walk down memory lane and a shameless plea for birthday greetings. It’s a musing on the purpose of storytelling. And Halloween – the Pagan new year – is a perfect time for contemplating the mystery story of life.

So here’s my theory: life is essentially a game of survival for all the creatures on Earth. We’re born, we live, we die. Cats and hedgehogs and oysters and giraffes probably don’t think much about the meaning of life, beyond the next meal and the urge to multiply.

But humans … well, we’re burdened by this generous, three-pound lump of gray matter sloshing around in our skulls (thanks, Eve!), which compels us to ask questions and seek meaning in everything. Why is the sky blue? Where did everything come from? What am I doing here? What’s the point of life? And what comes after it?

And so we try to explain reality to ourselves, largely through our imaginations (and, relatively recently, through science). That’s where storytelling comes in. Not only do we make up stories to explain what we actually see and experience, we fill in the unknowable blanks by creating spiritual world views that explain the remaining mysteries. Because it just doesn’t seem right that life might not mean anything in the context of the universe. It must. Right?

This need to discover and create meaning has spawned most of what we know as human culture, from the arts to the sciences, from religion to politics, from philosophy to birthday parties.

Wait, what? Birthday parties? Yes, special occasions are important expressions of meaningfulness (if that’s even a word).

Look at it this way: trotting around on four feet grazing the savannah every single day is an existence for creatures who don’t contemplate the meaning and mystery of life. They simply live it. Totally in the moment, every moment. Internal needs and external conditions dictate behaviour. Special occasions are not self-created, but are delivered by nature. Think floods, fires, meteors crashing into the planet. That’s survival (or, in unfortunate cases, extinction).

We, on the other hand, live in the past, present and future. We make rituals, and build monuments, and celebrate occasions, and organize knowledge, and create art, and write stories … all, at the heart of it, to elevate (or invent) the meaning of life. That’s something beyond pure survival. It’s a form of creation. (Science fiction, and probably NASA, have even given some creative thought to overcoming the meteor-collision-extinction scenario).

Of course, we also do a lot of other things that are destructive, rather than creative, but that’s another discussion entirely. It’s creativity’s evil twin, which can only be brought to heel through enlightenment.

The heaven and hell story is one way to understand it all, but there are many themes and variations. And so the mystery story of life continues. I believe the need for storytelling grows, rather than diminishes, as the speed of progress increases.

I love the symbolism of Halloween, with its rich cultural depth and vivid life-versus-death lore, as an enduring example of how we tell ourselves our own story. How we explore the mystery of life’s meaning by creating a narrative for the things we perceive and experience and imagine, but don’t always understand.

As long as humans seek meaning, storytelling will remain one of our most powerful tools. The way we’re built, we can’t resist mysteries, and we can’t put them down until they’re solved.

So don’t worry about what the future holds for writers. The truth is out there, and we’ll need someone to tell it.


5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

Sorry to report, I’ve been a very guilty truant for the past couple of weeks. Not only did I miss my blog post last week, I made little progress on my novel while on the road – best intentions notwithstanding. I’m hoping to piggyback on the jet stream created by all the (even crazier) writing colleagues out there who will embark on NaNoWriMo in just a few hours’ time. I’m thankful I have 90+ days left to complete my first draft, and not the 30-day deadline the NaNo’s are working to. Special thanks to 5writer friend Paula, who delivered a beautifully written and well-timed butt-kick in her post Write on!

New pages written:  Let’s not go there

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Yes!

Best new thing:  A wicked good Halloween birthday, with thanks to my wonderful tribe of well-wishing friends.

Apple progress:  Piemaking tomorrow!

Always be learning

Joe’s Post #154

IMG_2269 (800x599)As a writer, as a human being, as a full-on weirdo, there’s one thing I should always be doing.

ABL. Always. Be. Learning.

Like the famous speech in Glengarry, Glen Ross. (Parental discretion advised.)

But not, you know, always be closing. Always be learning.

So even when I’m writing on my novel or fixing it or staring at the words I’ve written and wondering what the hell made me think this was a good idea, I continue to try to learn something new that will help me be a better writer, a better blogger or just a more annoying history buff.

This week, I looked at three things I wanted to share.

First, the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge for October. Check it out. I have a link. Lots of good stuff if you’re just starting out a blog, but also some interesting exercises if you have one up and running.

Here are a few examples. Day 8. Find and share a helpful article. We do this on our blog (or at least share links) but it’s a good reminder to connect with the community at large. It’s something I need to work on with my own blog.

Day 9. Call to Action. I have to confess, this one has me baffled. We’ve not gotten a lot of comments on our blog and when I read other blogs, I see they often do. I’m not sure what we’re doing wrong. Any suggestions? (this is my call to action.)

Day 18. Interview an Expert. Oh, I like this one. Paula talked to an ex-sheriff, but I’m going to task that for next week. Stay tuned. I’m agonna find someone who knows something about something.

sniper 3. Apparently i'm in there somewhere.

Sniper 3. Apparently I’m in there somewhere.

Day 20. Search yourself. Hmmm. Seems Joe Cummings writes travel books. Seems Joe Cummings had a stranger living in his apartment. Seems there’s a Canadian poet named Joe Cummings. So not me. Seems Joe Cummings is an actor in Sniper.

So, yeah, seems I’m a lot of things, but none of them me.

Try justjoebc as a search and see what you find. I dominate that one. Oh, yeah, baby. Yeah.

I think I’ll go back and do up a plan for next week. I should be able to do 2 a day and catch up a bit.

Anyone else willing to give this a try?

Second thing learned.

Black Soldiers in WW1

Black Soldiers in WW1

Watched 8 hours of WW1 footage for my novel. Pretty interesting stuff. I’m going to steal all sorts of facts for my character’s background. After all, that war defined him. But the most interesting thing I learned is that while the US refused to integrate its army into the French army (for good reason), they did integrate their colored regiments, who were treated quite differently in that army than in their own.

Last thing.

I re-learned how important it is to have a support group, a critique group, or just a few writing friends who’ll be there to help you when you need it.

Holland WW2

Holland WW2

See, something was wrong with my first 60 pages. I dunno what the hell it was, but something was nagging at me. Nagging bad. But after spending time with one friend (and Friday, another), I should have it all sorted out.

Funny what a new set of eyes can see that you can’t.

So, if you’re ever stuck, go phone a friend. It’s advice from Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

At that’s it from me for this week.

******

Page count:  90ish (but see that thing about having to redo some of it)

5/5/5 Word count. I dunno. 22,000

Words that will get thrown out: Probably 21,000

Blogs written: 1 (but a burst of 5 starts tomorrow on Just A Stepdad.)

Exercise days: 0 – sick as a dog for most of last week

Movies Seen: Fury Road (with the boys). The Martian (maybe it was that time of month for me, but I teared up a lot). San Andreas (with the youngest boy, a movie that proves if you go by a formula, you’ll suck. Even with the Rock.)

Book I’m Reading: Something From The Nightside by Simon R. Green (a book akin to the one I wrote for the Tor open call).

 

 

 

On the road again, again

writing-on-the-road

Silk’s Post #142

October 14, 2015 … Sometimes I wonder whether we should be doing a writers’ blog or a travellers’ blog. 5travellers5journeys5months? We 5writers do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on the road. Just take the last three or four months, for instance …

Paula hopped all over visiting family this summer … Cincinnati one day, Florida the next. On her last check-in she was back home in Gibsons, BC, writing as she gazed over the harbour from her beachy retreat. But that was a few days ago, after she got back from La Quinta, CA. Or was it San Diego? Anyway, now I think she’s in (surprise!) Surprise, AZ for a tennis tournament.

Joe is recently back from his proposal adventure in Whistler, BC, where he won the hand of the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world on top of a mountain (then helicoptered back down and took a nap, apparently – hey the air’s pretty thin up there). After his flurry of camping trips and other family travel adventures, I think he’s back home in Langley, BC, writing between kids’ hockey practices.

Karalee had her eagerly-awaited mother-of-the-bride trip to Mexico this summer, then immediately took off for a kayak adventure in Haida Gwaii. What a juxtaposition! It sounds like she’s home now from her business conference in someplace very sunny (Las Vegas?) and her family getaway to the California coast. Writing I hope!

Helga is now back in her elegant and ever-fascinating birth city, Vienna, Austria, spending time with her indomitable mother. I am positive she’s soaking up material for a book to come. But soon after she returns to Vancouver, BC, she’ll be off again to her new winter home in Palm Springs, CA.

As for me, half my summer was spent on the water, sailing the San Juan Islands, WA, then up the BC coast to Desolation Sound and back. And now I’m on the move again, on a camping road trip down the coast to California catching up with family and friends.

As Carole King sang: You’re so far away. Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?

Well, the answer seems to be “no”.

What is this urge to be in constant motion all about? Are the 5writers going all jet-setty on you?

The reality is that much of this to-ing and fro-ing is about keeping in touch, and sharing activities, with family and friends. The reality is that personal mobility is the new normal. Families living for many generations in the same place used to be typical. Today, it’s much more likely that you have relatives and friends scattered across the country, or the world.

This is just one reason more people travel, more often, and to more places than ever before.

But, with some reluctance, I have to ask this question: When you’re constantly packing, or unpacking, or doing laundry while planning for the next departure, is there really time – and focus – left for writing?

Oh, we’re getting lots of stimulation all right. We’re collecting experiences and studying the great smorgasbord of real-life characters out here. We’re soaking up sights, sounds, smells, tastes, moods, settings that could be used to build memorable storyworlds.

But when will we “settle down” and write about it?

In airport lounges? Holed up in chic but unfamiliar cafes? Huddled near a sputtering campfire while coyotes yip in the distance? By night-light, propped up with random pillows in someone’s guest bedroom? Hunched over the navigation table of a rocking boat? Typing with fingerless gloves, sitting on a cold hockey arena bleacher before dawn? Under a beach umbrella between dips in the water?

It all sounds so romantic, so interesting, so fun, so possible. The Writing Life. We can do it anywhere, anytime.

Sure we can. But do we?

Well, here I am, on the road again. Again. My writer’s nook for today is the table of our 5th wheel trailer while I listen to the Pacific rollers out beyond the pine fringe, beyond the flat, stretches-for-miles strand at Grayland Beach State Park, WA.

And I am writing. Getting it done. Even though all this travel has made my post days late. In part, this is because of being constantly on the move or in the midst of social events. But the other challenge is that getting online while away from home is often like winning the lottery. You really take your chances. As I write this it’s Wednesday afternoon, but I have no idea when I’ll actually be able to post it.

My mission today was to call my inner naysayer a liar. When I sat down to write, that little whiner inside was kvetching:

“Writing on the road is too haaard. I want to go for a walk on the beach. I want to read a book. I don’t feel like working. You can’t send your post today anyway, so what’s the point? Why bother going on a trip to someplace beautiful and then use up all your playtime sitting inside writing? I’m missing all the fun. Writing on the road is too haaard!”

Oh, yeah? Well I did it anyway. Maybe not my most captivating post, but it’s certainly “in the now”. And from the heart.

And I didn’t miss the fun. I made my own.


October 16, 2015 … Friday morning under a fog bank. I’ve finally got a cell signal here at Nehalem Bay, OR where we’re camped just behind the dunes on the spectacular Oregon north coast, where every view around every curve is heartbreaking because you want to stop, right there, and just stare at it for hours. So that’s the good news, and here’s the bad news …

5/5/5 challenge scorecard for the week:

New pages written:  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Word count:  Still 9,320

Rewrites:  None

Blog posts written:  1

Research done:  Nope

Best new thing:  Being on the road again, again.

Apple progress:  3 dozen oatmeal apple muffins in the freezer. Okay, two and a half dozen … 6 already gobbled down.