Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday Feature: Shaking Up That Mundane Routine

Routines can be a good thing. They can keep us on task, keep things running smoothly and help us get things done.

But sometimes, we crave change.

Blame hedonic adaptation -- our natural tendency to adjust to even the best of circumstances so that they become humdrum. Dull.


Want some ideas for shaking up your routine, along with a little insight into why we need to do it? Check out Juli Fraga's "What to Do When You're Bored with Your Routines." Combining insights for positive psychology with practical advice, Fraga helps us understand why we get bored with the same old-same old and what we can do about it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go try something new. Check in next week to find out more about it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Day for Book Lovers

Today is a day for book lovers everywhere! National Bookmobile Day collides with School Librarians' Day in only the best way, celebrating those who make free books available. It's a perfect day to visit the library, whether your library is a school library, a freestanding library or a library on wheels. As someone who volunteered in her local library in junior high, whose first job was in a bookstore, and who wrangles words for a living, I have a particular appreciation for any place that puts books and readers together.

Last year, my local library system became a part of an initiative that does just that. The 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program aims to make it possible for every child to listen to and/or read 1000 books before he or she enters kindergarten. Books can be repeated (that sound you just heard was parents of toddlers sighing over the demand from their pint-sized listeners to read the book "Again!") Programs like these are one way -- and a fairly easy way at that -- of closing the vocabulary gap between rich and poor and leveling the playing field for all kindergartners.

Sound hard? Not really, especially since even babies love to be read to.
"If you read just 1 book a night, you will have read about 365 books in a year. That is 730 books in two years and 1,095 books in three years. If you consider that most children start kindergarten at around 5 years of age, you have more time than you think (so get started)."(
The more we read and talk and sing and share language with our kids, the better their language gets and the less likely it is that our words just sound like blah, blah, blah.

Did I mention it's also Blah, Blah, Blah Day?

What will you read today?

Monday, April 15, 2019

Filling the Blank Page, Part 2

NothingButGraphics via Pixabay
Last week, I wrote a post about getting past the blank page, focusing on the things I don't do, with a promise to talk later about what I do instead.

Later is here :-)
  • I don't outline, but I often dump my unformulated ideas onto the page, the screen or a white board. Sometimes these ideas are in sentences, sometimes just a word or a thought and often the order is completely random, based only on how the ideas came to me. Because this isn't as structured or as neat as an outline, imposing order feels easier as I cherry-pick first one idea, then another, plunking them into the final document. Again, if outlines work for you, go for it. For me, outlines feel like a straight jacket (or so I imagine), leaving me longing to break free. 
  • I don't skip the first draft, but my very first first draft is often little more than a succession of ideas. Often, these ideas are generated in the shower, or as I'm falling asleep, or when I first wake up, then scrawled on a notepad or dictated into my phone and emailed so I can print them out and work from a hard copy (see also I don't outline). Getting the ideas out of my head is the first step to turning them into something besides random ideas and ideas splashed across the page make me feel as though there's room to embellish or even eliminate as I make connections.
  • I don't worry about making my first draft pretty, but I don't go in blind. Splashing my ideas across the page in whatever form they emerge leaves me free to make a mess, explore connections, change my mind, cut and paste and essentially try on various combinations of transitions, links and possibilities. The first draft can be as messy and imperfect as it needs to be as long as it leads me to an almost-there document that I can tighten and sharpen later. 
  • I don't focus solely on one project at at time unless I have to, but I know how to dig in if I have to. Admittedly, it was hard for my perfectionistic self to make peace with project-hopping until I discovered how well it works. When a new idea is burning so brightly I just can't set it aside to do what I'm "supposed to," I don't. I let the mood drive me. Writing is, after all, a creative pursuit and sometimes creativity operates on its own schedule.
Domas via Pixabay
One last do: I save my outtakes. For articles and short pieces, these outtakes can live at the bottom of the document until I'm satisfied with the final draft. For book-length projects, I keep a separate outtakes file for each book. This makes it much easier to "kill my darlings" -- those pieces of prose that sparkle for me, but that just don't work in the text. If I know they're resting peacefully in a file all their own (where I can resurrect them at any time if I want to), I can cut them mercilessly from the manuscript. Sometimes, I reclaim them. Most of the time, I don't.

If you asked a roomful of authors what their process looks like, some of their work styles would intersect with mine, and others would be polar opposites. The truth is, there's no one right way to create. Whether it's artwork, music, writing or some other creative pursuit entirely, each of us finds what works and hones it over time, doing the best we can to keep procrastination and the dreaded blank page at bay. 

Is it any wonder we talk to our characters?


Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday Feature: What Should I Wear?

What I've been reading today is student papers -- lots of them. And, since the last seven were on the topic of neglect in childhood, I was looking for a fun read for this post.

This week, over at Organizing by STYLE, I've been writing about closets and clothing, so I suppose it's no surprise that I lit on an article about the messages our clothing sends in the work setting. In his piece in Fast Company, Jared Lindzon suggests colors to choose for everything from group work to performance evaluations based on the messages they send.

It was an interesting piece, one I chose for the lightheartedness of the topic as much as its practicality. In addition, I have some presentations coming up and wondered what (besides cleanliness and color coordination) I might want to take into consideration as I selected my outfit.

Lindzon opens his article by saying the following:
"When it comes to color, most people fall into one of two camps; those who use their clothing to express themselves, and those who couldn’t care less."
Which one are you?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Filling the Blank Page, Part 1

The first draft of this post
These days, when I sit down to write a first draft, whether a blog post, an article or a novel, I have some idea of what that first draft is supposed to look like. I know it won't look the same for every project (nor should it) and I know that sometimes, when the going gets tough on one project, I need to dive into another one instead.

But I've been writing professionally for more than 25 years. I should hope I know how to do this stuff.

Still, sometimes, the blank page is daunting. Maybe I can't think of a topic or maybe I, like my daughter and my students, struggle with perfectionism and/or procrastination. Instead of writing, I find a million other things to do, whether it's because I can't get started or I fear that the end product won't live up to my expectations.

Time and experience have taught me a few strategies for this.

  • I don't outline. I'm not saying this is a good thing -- just that outlines don't work for me and that trying to make them work uses up valuable time and energy.
  • I don't skip the first draft. Okay, sometimes I do, but only when the first draft goes extraordinarily well. I never plan to skip a first draft, which can look like anything from a random assortment of ideas to fully formatted paragraphs, most of which I probably came up with in the shower instead of in front of the computer. 
  • I don't worry about making a first draft pretty. When I teach writing, I tell my students to just dump everything onto the page. I've gone so far as to use the word "vomit" to describe this brain dump, explaining that after that visual, there's nowhere to go but up.  
  • I don't focus solely on one project at at time unless I have to. When a deadline looms, I have no choice but to dig in and get it done. But when the project in front of me isn't time sensitive, I don't feel guilty about replacing it with another one when the words just won't come. 
To dedicated plotters and laser-focused, production-oriented writers, these don'ts may reek of laziness but, for me, they keep the aforementioned procrastination and perfectionism at bay. I'll be the first to admit that I'm an emotion-focused writer but, when I use that to my advantage, I can pour that passion onto the page, and my work is better for it. When I force myself to adhere to things that don't work for me, I end up wasting a great deal of time that could be better spent writing.

So if these are the don'ts, what are the to-do's? Check back in a week or so to find out what I do instead. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Fond of Forsythia

Capri23auto via Pixabay
The forsythia are in bloom. This, to me, signals spring.

It also brings back memories. When I was a child, we had a forsythia bush in our back yard and, if memory serves, I brought a bounty of cut-off branches wrapped in foil to my teacher on more than one occasion. We moved from that house when I was eleven, and while I don't remember what was in the back yard at our next house, I remember the forsythia in the back yard and the azaleas that lined the front walk at our house on Pitman Avenue and think of them fondly every spring.

Fast forward almost thirty years. When my daughter was three, she attended a local Montessori school for a time. Our drive to that school was a little longer than the drive to daycare she was used to and, once the forsythia began blooming, I'd point them out to her. This quickly turned into a game where each of us raced to "discover" the forsythia before the other -- a game we played every spring for a long time.

These days, when I see forsythia, I feel a pang of missing my daughter. A college student now, she's thriving in a life of her own, but that doesn't stop me from texting her. "Forsythia!" I type and hit send, missing her just a little more than usual in that moment, wishing she were here in the car with me to find the next blooms before I even see them. Good daughter that she is, she plays along, texting me back an emoji or a smart aleck comment to make me laugh.

It's funny how a simple flower can elicit so many memories. Indoor aficionado that I am, I can't tell you the names of most flowers, but the bright flash of yellow forsythias will forever bloom in my heart, reminding me of family and signaling an optimism that only spring can bring.

manfredrichter via Pixabay

Friday, April 5, 2019

Friday Feature: Recharging the Ambivert Way

Most people -- my students in particular -- quickly classify me as an extrovert. A Jersey girl through and through, I'll talk your ear off if you get me going, especially if we're talking about something I'm passionate about (and I'm passionate about a lot). I love speaking, presenting and being on stage and, under the right circumstances, have zero aversion to the spotlight.

But sometimes, extroversion is exhausting. When I've had a long week, or I go to a conference or other event where I need to be "on" for long periods of time. Or when I'm out of my depth on the topic under discussion. My ability to withdraw is almost as strong as my ability to engage.

I was probably close to 40 by the time I first recognized the contradictions in my own personality, and in my 50s before I realized there's a name for this.


I've embraced that classification almost as enthusiastically as I embrace my Jersey roots. It explains so much, after all. Why I don't just like quiet sometimes, but need it. Why too much time in a busy environment -- something that typically recharges an extrovert -- wears me out. Why I'm equally at home in a one-on-one situation and a group outing with friends, but sometimes seek out one-on-one interactions within a large group.

In retrospect, this combination is probably what drew me to my career. As an educator, I'm required to be "on" in front of a classroom, but I also need to spend time in quieter pursuits like grading and planning. As a counselor, I loved meeting with both individual students and my fun, quirky small groups.

When I stumbled upon Karl Moore's perfectly titled piece ("Neither Extrovert Nor Ambivert? You Need a Break Too") on the wonderful Quiet Revolution website (again -- why would an extrovert be drawn to this website??), I lapped it right up.

Sometimes, it's nice to know you're not alone. Other times, alone is the best way to be.

How about you? How do you recharge?