Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Way Back Wednesday: Gregory Who?

 Last weekend, I finally tackled some of the clutter in my office. Among the random slips of paper on my desk was a playlist for Marita (one of the  protagonists in my novels) and Gregory.

Gregory? 

I'll let this post from last summer re-introduce you.

Gregory Daniels, Esq. appeared in Casting the First Stone, but after "beige" date with Marita, he never got a second chance. At least not until the third book, when he showed up early on, hoping to convince Marita he was worth a second look. 

Here are a few things I know about Attorney Daniels. 

1. When he's not at work and/or in court, he's most likely in the law library or at the gym.

2. He worked as a barista to put himself through law school. 

3. He admired the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she was feisty, smart and had a hunger to see justice served.

4. He has two older sisters. 

5. He thinks he made a mistake not trying harder with Marita.

And one thing I learned? He can be very persistent when he wants something. 

Or someone.


Oh, and that playlist? 

Here you go.

"Taking a Chance on Love"

"Crazy"

"Since You've Asked"

"Love Shack" 

Admittedly, that last one is kind of an outlier. Not sure what I was thinking when I chose it but, in reviewing it, I enjoyed departing from the standards.





 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

1000 words x 7 = This Week

Courtesy of 1000wordsofsummer.substack.com

 This week, I'm participating in #1000wordsofsummer, a writing event I found out about in a class I took in June. This is a mini version of an event that takes place in June and, in this month's event, participants set out to write 1000 words a day for 7 days.

Three days down, 3149 words written, much to my amazement. 

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of these types of events. My past participation in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which rolls around every November), led to me going too far afield in my quest to get a certain number of words on the page. In addition, last week, I got into a writing groove where I started out my writing sessions with revision. 

This is not conducive to coming up with 1000 new words a day.

As with anything else in life, variety adds spice. Though I know writers who set their writing goals in terms of word count,  I typically set mine in terms of time. Switching things up has been interesting. The first day, it took me almost two hours to write 1000 words, partly because I did some revising, which sent me both backwards and forward. Yesterday, I worked on my novel, and it took about an hour and a half. Today, I worked on a non-fiction project and it took me about an hour. Then again, I didn't include the time spent researching.

No matter how long it takes, it feels really good to hit that goal at the end of my writing time, and especially good to hit it three days in a row. And, the timing is perfect, since this is my last full week without any school obligations. It's my final writing blowout for the summer.

I don't see myself switching to a word count goal any time soon but, for this week, the challenge, coupled with the knowledge that other people are pounding out their 1000 words, too, has been very motivating. 

It's a great way to end a summer that's been filled with explorations into creativity. 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Friday Feature: Pain and Suffering


 In the last year, two of the books from my non-fiction book club have focused on the meaning of suffering.

Ugh, I though, as I took them out of the box and put them into my library donation bag. Why would I want to read about that?

I wondered (and still do) if these books were connected in any way to the pandemic. Then, after reading this article in Big Think, I wondered if they were the inevitable pendulum swing away from positive psychology.

I love positive psychology. In fact, I’m teaching it again next spring. But, so often, people hear “positive psychology” and think rah-rah, happy-happy, joy-joy and dismiss it as more delusional than helpful. 

They don’t see a place for it in the real world.

Positive psychology arose because psychology as a discipline was too focused on fixing what was broken. It was a pendulum swing away from immersion in suffering.

That doesn’t mean that positive psychology ignores the inevitable negatives in life. Instead, it focuses on resilience, raising the question of how we bounce back from horrific events. At least one study looked at September 11 survivors and found amazing strengths that arose as a result of not only what they’d been through but also the perspective it gave them.

I suppose in that way it’s not that dissimilar from the books on suffering that seem to be flooding the market right now. I’m still not convinced that I want to spend my precious reading time immersing myself in the study of suffering, but I do see the value of resilience. In fact, I joke with my students that they can’t get through a class with me – regardless of what it is – without hearing about resilience and mindset.

As an instructor of positive psychology, maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to set these books aside. Perhaps I owe it to my students, if not to myself, to see how these perspectives align. Still, I can’t help but feel that a small dose is sufficient. It took psychologists more than a century to recognize the importance of seeking positivity as a counterbalance to our natural negativity bias and, knowing what I do about pendulum swings, I have no desire to swing with this one into something that gives me a sense of déjà vu that borders on foreboding.

Ignorance, however, is not bliss, and balance is key - a conclusion I seem to be coming to a lot lately. In addition, critical thinking requires considering more than one perspective, which, in this case, means I should at least crack open one of those books before handing them off to the library.

This is not at all the conclusion I anticipated when I started writing this post. It is, in fact, much easier to disregard this information than to confront it. But, part of the beauty of our information-rich world is that we can choose our poison. I can choose to read these books or not. I might instead choose to read more articles like the one in Big Think or to watch a TED talk.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. So, too, can a little ignorance.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Wednesday Wish List


 Back in March 2020, when we optimistically thought we were going home for two weeks to "stop the spread," I made a list of 14 things I could do in those 14 days:

  1. Hang out with my daughter. Like many college students, she is unexpectedly home for the rest of the semester. A golden opportunity.
  2. Learn new technology. In the space of one weekend, I've moved from face-to-face teaching to online instruction. There's a whole new list of instructional tools to choose from!
  3. Write! Whether it's working on my books or proposing new articles, unexpected time at home can easily become writing time.
  4. Read. Still on a roll from my 29-day challenge, I now have an opportunity to make this a full-fledged habit.
  5. Clear off my dining room table. A drop spot for both my daughter and me, this spot quickly spirals out of control. Is it too late to make a Lenten resolution to clear it off and keep it that way?
  6. Clean out drawers and closets. Love doing it, never have/make time for it.
  7. Rediscover my kitchen. Is it possible that, without time constraints, cooking and baking can be fun? 
  8. Clean the basement. What a great time to create space by getting rid of what we no longer need.
  9. Take advantage of online opportunities. Webinars. Online classes. Virtual museum exhibits.
  10. Write a letter. Or send a card. Old school cheer to someone else stuck indoors.
  11. Laptop love. Pare down my inbox. Reduce the number of tabs that give my students heart palpitations.
  12. Update my online presence. LinkedIn. Goodreads. Pinterest. All suffer from benign neglect. 
  13. Pull some weeds. Shh. Don't tell my husband. He calls it ground cover. I call them weeds.
  14. Do my nails. Gotta get some self-care on this list, right?
As of today, I have 16 days until my first fall semester responsibility (an introductory event with my First Year Seminar students) and 20 days until classes start. Here's my wish list, some of which I shamelessly stole from the post above). The little + or - in parentheses? My prediction of whether or not I'll actually accomplish it.
  1. Read/listen. Finish one more Audible book and one more physical book. (+)
  2. Write! No specific goal here. With three projects in active rotation, I have plenty to choose from. (+)
  3. Paint the upstairs bathroom. It's been on my list for a while. I have a feeling it's going to stay there (-).
  4. Reclaim my office. Again, it's been on the list for a while. I was making progress until I gave my daughter a table from the office and all the stuff on the table ended up on the counter. (+/-) Improvement is a distinct possibility. Reclamation may be too much to hope for.
  5. Pare down my inboxes (home and school). This one's a continuation, and I've had some significant success. Just need to keep at it. (+) 
  6. Write a letter and/or send a card just because. I love this one so I'm putting it the list again. (+)
  7. Visit my daughter in Pittsburgh. I'd love to do this, but suspect that the time crunch here will push this one off the list, especially since she's coming for a visit this month. (-)
  8. Do my nails -- twice. I packed the stuff I needed to do this at the beach, sure I'd find time. I didn't. (+)
  9. Finish the jigsaw puzzle I started earlier this summer. And, after this one, I'm going back to 500 piece puzzles. I just don't have the time to get bigger ones done in a timely fashion. (+)
  10. Make more progress in the basement. The same giveaway weekend that pushed my office into disorganization inspired a significant improvement in the basement. Hoping to build on that. (+)
  11. Watch at least three online webinars/TED Talks. I had TED Talks on my vacation list, but didn't get to them, and I have a webinar recording from earlier this summer waiting for me, as well as some opportunities on another site I just joined. (+)
  12. Hidden organizing projects (aka drawers and closets). Almost took this one off this list, then remembered the items from my Pampered Chef order that are still in need of homes. (+) They can't stay where they are!
  13. Shelf liner: kitchen. Started this earlier this summer. Just need to get back to it. (+/-) Depends on how much the current situation annoys me.
Even though there are 16 - 20 days remaining in my vacation, I'm stopping this list at 13. I'm sure I'll come up with a few more things and, when I factor in back-to-school prep, I have a better chance of making all those + signs actually happen if I underplan.

How about you? What's on your rest-of-summer list? 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Professing My Intentions


 Last week, we were at the beach and I made it a priority to step away from the computer. I did well for most of the week and, for the most part, it wasn't even that challenging. 

But, by Thursday, I missed my mornings spent puttering on writing-related things. I'd worked hard the week before vacation to get a book proposal off my hard drive and into an editor's inbox (fingers crossed), so some recharging was definitely called for but, by the end of the week, after some time awayI found myself pondering a question that's been circling in my head all summer.

Is my writing a profession or something else?

I'm serious about writing, and about writing for publication, and I have been for nearly three decades. Prevailing wisdom says things like "write every day" and "treat it like a job" but lately, I've been wondering if that's really an approach that works for me.

Does taking my writing seriously mean I have to treat it like a job? More and more, I think it doesn't.

The pandemic left me drained of creativity. Writing felt like too much work and I began to wonder if I'd reached the end of the road. Then, last February, I started prizing creativity as much as productivity and this summer, I focused on things that would recharge my writing. Missing the writing conferences that had had this impact but not yet ready to do in-person sessions in hotel meeting rooms, I looked online for opportunities.

And they were wonderful. 

I found myself connecting with other writers and wanting to write again. By the middle of July, I looked at the notebook that had been blank a month earlier and it was more than halfway filled with notes from writing webinars and sessions, each tabbed so I could find what I was looking for. And, in more practical pursuits, I hit my personal deadline of finishing the book proposal I'd been working on for months, hitting send less than 24 hours before going on vacation.


blickpixel via Pixabay

Productivity looks like different things in different seasons. Sometimes, it looks like setting goals and checking off all the steps that lead in that direction. Other times, it looks like sitting at the computer and writing the latest chapter. 

But still other times, it looks less like output and more like input. Sitting on the patio on a lovely summer day and listening to a writing webinar. Staring into space. Reading a book. Doodling, journaling, reflecting.

Recharging and refilling.

One of the resounding themes of my book Know Thyself: The Imperfectionist's Guide to Sorting Your Stuff is that organizing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. I'm not sure why it surprised me that the same is true of writing, or that it took hearing those words in a webinar presented by an esteemed magazine editor for the message to hit home.

Sometimes, we sit down and the words flow. More often, creativity needs to be shaken loose, eased into, or even snuck up on when the muse isn't looking.

While there's certainly something to be said for treating writing as a profession, it's becoming clear to me that I need to treat it more as an avocation. Yes, I'm serious about it. Yes, I feel drawn to it, and yes I want to succeed at it. But, to do it well, I can't consider it a 9 to 5 job because not only does that suck all the joy out of it, but it assumes that good ideas and energy show up on a schedule.

They do not.

If I want to achieve my writing goals, it's important for me to make sure that writing is a habit. The precise manifestation of that habit, however, is going to vary. Ironically, it's only by accepting that fact that I have any hope of making the progress I dream of.

Now that I'm back home, various tasks are tugging at me, pulling me in multiple directions. And, while it's true that those tasks are a distraction, they are sometimes an unexpected inspiration as well.

Canva.com
Writers need material. Much of it comes from within us, but those sparks of creativity are fanned into a flame by a life spent away from the computer. As in so many other things, balance is key.

So today, I hereby renounce my classification of writing as my profession. It's primarily a semantic exercise, as I will still refer to myself as a writer and will still take my writing seriously and continue to aim for goals that will cement my status as a professional writer. But removing the "profession" label frees me to explore my writing in new ways, just as I would explore any other activity I enjoy.

Maybe I should go on vacation more often.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Tools of a Writer

 This Way Back Wednesday post really goes waaayy back. It's from 2009, but my love of all things paper goes back even further. I was dismayed to realize that I'd neglected to pack my Beach Pages journal for my beach vacation but there are definitely enough other notebooks along for the ride, so I'm sure one can "step in." 

I love stationery. Paper products, funky pens, pencils with a just-right point. Some might file this under "O"(occupational hazard) for a writer, but I can trace my obsession with all things paper back to my childhood. 

When I was a kid, there was a stationery store many blocks from my home where you could buy paper by the pound. I thought that was the coolest thing, although what I would do with a pound of paper at the ripe-old age of eight, I have no idea. Still, on the occasions when my mother and I would take the long walk to that part of town, I loved just going into the store. 

As an adult, I still harbor the same affection for paper and writing implements. In fact (not surprisingly), I have developed predilections for particular items. Though I'm typing this blog now, it was originally hand-written on a small tablet, spiral-bound at the top, which I keep in my car for list-making and times when I need paper that is safely held together and won't scatter to the wind, the floor or the back seat. 

At the [elementary] school where I [used to] work, we have tablets made of lined newsprint. They were my go-to source when I needed to make lists, brainstorm ideas or simply get my thoughts out of my head and onto the page. The right pen (preferably with black, red or purple ink) glides across the page, allowing me to write quickly and effortlessly, if not neatly. 

The combination of the right pen and the right paper allows me to spill my thoughts onto the page, lest they, too, run the risk of scattering like those loose pages before I can get them down. Not every writing implement is amenable to -- or suited for -- my beloved newsprint tablets. The mechanical pencils (.7mm lead, never .5mm) on which I depend for my nightly Sudokus are ill-equipped for both the task, and the finish of the paper. Unlike my favorite pen (Pentech, for those of you who are as obsessed as I am, and/or making lists of things I'd like for Christmas) the pencil digs into the paper, hampering the flow of my writing and therefore my ideas. The resulting product is too light to read upon later inspection, and quickly becomes faded, jeopardizing the future usefulness of the words on the page. 

A few weeks ago, when I went into the supply closet to replenish my supply of newsprint tablets, I couldn't find any. Sure they were gone for good, I began rationing the paper I had, using it only when it was perfect for the task at hand lest I waste even one page on something as frivolous as a phone message. It was only when I mentioned my paper obsession to a colleague that she assured me there were more tablets in the closet. I only needed to look up above the shelves to find newsprint nirvana. 

Needless to say, I stocked up. 

Turns out, however, that my colleague has a paper obsession of her own. While any paper will do most of the time, when it comes to her sketches, she has her own particular preferences. 

Perhaps the creative brain simply wants what it wants, and anything that frees the process in any way is a tool worth having, whether it's a computer keyboard, a spiral-bound notebook or my own beloved newsprint tablet. Meanwhile, I'll continue to haunt the stationery aisles of my favorite stores, just in case we really do run out. 

A girl has to be prepared.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

 According to Twitter, this week is Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week. This is how I'm celebrating. 

Any questions?

I sent my book proposal out last week (I'm a hybrid author -- traditionally published nonfiction and self-published fiction), so I'm giving the muse a break this week. I'm sure some ideas will arise and, if so, I have the appropriate notebooks in which to capture them. 

But, the longer I do this, the more I realize that nudging, berating, and otherwise harassing the muse is not the way to go. Both of us need a little R & R before I flip the calendar page to August and it's time to devote at least a little time to back-to-school prep. 

So far, that's looked like reviewing a really cool planner (still need to write the review, but I have copious notes), reading for pleasure, practicing my French (a habit started two summers ago), a tiny bit of sketchnoting, and a really easy jigsaw puzzle. Unfortunately, it also included an ER trip for my husband who is, I'm grateful to say, on the mend.

The older I get, the less I feel I need to make excuses for lazy summer days. So, as my first (and only) official act of Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, I hereby grant you permission to enjoy as many lazy summer days as you can. If you wish, you may even bank a few for use in a future season.

Enjoy every minute. They go really fast.