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Santa#

Twas the night before Christmas
The topic was stress
Two bloggers were writing
Their posts still a mess…

  

To: Karin@Let’sGrowLeaders
From: Regina@CreativelyConscious
Re: Christmas

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Hey Karin. Merry Christmas! Can I stop by and bring you some breakfast?

  

To: Regina@CreativelyConscious
From: Karin@Let’sGrowLeaders
Re: Christmas

­­­­

Thanks, but I’m on a deadline.  #toobusy #nostresseating

(more…)

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NaBloPoMo_November_small(For the first 12 and an intro to this post, go here)

13. Acupuncture. About three years after a year of physical therapy, pain medications, chiropractor appointments and conversations with surgeons, one session with my acupuncturist allowed me to lift my leg off the ground more than three inches for the first time in almost a year. My back only goes funky 1-2 times a year now because of her. I can’t tell you why it works,it just does.

14. Being a (more…)

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NaBloPoMo_November_smallIn no particular order:

1. Stop over-thinking it.  Seriously. You want to write? Then just start. Don’t worry if you don’t know the ending to your novel. Don’t panic if you don’t know how to correctly format conversations. All of those things can be fixed later, provided you have something later to fix. And the only way to have that is to put those words on paper. Write. Then write some more.

2. Which brings me to maybe the most important thing I know. Writing and editing are not the same thing.  Let me say that again.  Writing and editing are not the same thing. Get your words down on paper. Don’t worry about subject/verb agreement or sentence fragments or anything until long after you get everything down on paper. If you want to enjoy writing, forget about editing it at the same time. There is plenty of time after you are done to rework. When I work with my youngest writers, the first thing I tell them is spelling counts, but only a little. Grammar counts, but only a little too. If you can spell well enough and construct a sentence that conveys what you want then a few misspellings or grammar mistakes aren’t that big a deal. That’s what spell check is for. And editors.

3. Keep moving forward. Say you’ve been writing about a middle-aged, male, insurance salesman. Then you get to page 100 and you suddenly realize that your main character is actually a 25-year-old female roller derby skater. You are going to want to go back to the beginning and start over. You’ll think, “I’ll just fix it quick and then it won’t drive me crazy. Plus I might forget later.”  Trust me, you won’t forget. And, again writing and editing are not the same thing. Keep moving forward.

4. You don’t have to create huge blocks of time in your schedule to write. This may be the biggest roadblock for many of the people I’ve worked with. Somehow their image of a “real writer” is a person who sits at their computer for hours at a time, hammering out pages and pages of material at one sitting. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are writers out there who have the luxury of time to create that sort of writing habit.  However, there are lots of writers who sneak in 15-30 minutes a day, sometimes while making dinner or for a few minutes after they put their kids to bed each evening. The key isn’t the amount of time you spend. The key is consistency. Write every day and you will complete the stories rattling around in your head.

5. Write what you like. I once took a children’s book writing class. The first thing the woman said was “Don’t write books about animals who act like people. Publishers don’t buy those books anymore.” That was the same time year Mo Willems exploded on the scene. He’s the author who writes such immensely popular books as  the Elephant and Piggy and the “Don’t Let the Pigeon…” series. Don’t chase after genres because something seems to be popular or you think it’s something you *should* write. If you love what you are writing, it will shine through.

Really.

 

This is day 24 in the 30 Day National Blog Posting Month Challenge.

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NaBloPoMo_November_smallThis year I’ve worked harder to learn to play the guitar than I have in past years (lots and lots of past years). While I’m not ready to open for Aerosmith on their next world tour, I’m making progress. More importantly, I’m having more fun playing than I have ever before.

So this past weekend of ridiculous fun, raucous laughter and amazing concerts included a brunch in Northern VA with friends from far and wide. I consumed way too much delicious food and was seriously considering a cat nap when musical instruments started coming out. More than a couple of people in our group are really talented musicians who have been honing their craft for years. One could get really intimidated by their abilities if they weren’t so freakin’ nice and inclusive.

So, I ended up with a guitar in my hands.  My initial instinct was to play the one song I know really well (really well being a relative term) and hand off the guitar to someone more experienced.  I made my way through my song, the other guests sang along and I put the guitar on the table so the “real” musicians could play. Then a funny thing happened, the serious musicians started playing and I quickly realized they expected me to play with them. Again, I found myself ready to hand off the guitar but then I remembered a great rule for beginners or anyone looking to learn more, really. Anytime you have the chance to practice your skill with more advanced practitioners, take advantage of the situation.

In other words, play up.

I struggled to keep up as they went through a number of songs way more advanced than I am, but the others took the time to yell out chords, help me with my strumming and in general allow me to fumble my way through. The great thing is that I learned a few things that I wouldn’t have learned just sitting there. I don’t care if you’re a knitter or a litigator: if someone with more experience is willing to put you in the game or spend time teaching you something new, you take them up on that offer. Check your ego at the door over your imperfections and dive in. It beats sitting in your room watching Youtube videos trying to figure something out, I promise you that.

Did I come out of that jam session an entirely new and improved guitar player? No. But I learned a few things and had a hell of a lot of fun at the same time.

Play up.

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HIgh diveWhen I was growing up, we’d sometimes head off to a local lake during the summer. There were several floats out in the water to play on and the farthest one out had a rickety ladder with a narrow board attached to it about ten feet in the air. We’d all dare each other to climb the ladder, walk across the plank where we’d stand with our toes grasping on to the very edge and look the looong way down into the murky water. I’d stand there a while, just staring into the unknown. A couple of times I turned around and went back down the ladder. Then I’d go back up again. My nerves ran high. I tell myself that other kids had already done it, it was just jumping into the water. I’d even done it before and liked it. It would take all the courage I had to leap.

I’d remind myself, “the first jump is the worst.”  And it was. That first jump took so much effort, so much to break through the anxiety and jump anyway. Eventually I’d leap and on my way down I’d question, “what was I thinking?” That is, until I hit the water where I suddenly realized I was having fun. I’d surface with a big smile on my face, swim back to the float, and climb that ladder again. And again. And again. Each jump happened a little faster, with less anxiety and more confidence.

Steven Pressfield wrote a fantastic book called The War of Art. In it, he describes the constant battle with “The Resistance.” The Resistance is the block, usually anxiety, we feel when we try to do something creative, something that requires a risk, no matter how small. It’s that urge to clean the house instead of working on your thesis. It’s the reason you call a friend and have coffee for three hours instead of hammering out the business plan for your new endeavour. It’s why you surf the web for four hours (all on the name of research) instead of writing the next chapter of your novel. Our anxiety builds because The Resistance plays on our fear of the unknown. We don’t know if we’ll graduate or if people will fund our Kickstarter or if that novel will get published. There are no promises, just creative risks.

So what’s the solution? The only useful one I’ve ever found is knowing that The Resistance is always present. It’s not out to get you, you won’t feel better if you listen to its siren call and if you’re waiting to feel less anxious before you start, well, you are going to be waiting a very long time. As trite as it sounds, to quote another famous book on creative anxiety, you’ve got to “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.”

Really, that’s it, unfortunately. I can’t give you any magic powers or fancy answers or 12 steps to getting rid of your anxiety once and for all. We don’t expect gravity to just disappear when we try to shoot a basketball into the net. We just throw as hard as we need to overcome it. And sometimes we come up short. So we throw the ball the again.

In the movie “Joe Vs. The Volcano,” Meg Ryan turns to Tom Hanks as he wonders what’s in store for them as they get ready to jump into an active volcano:

“Joe, nobody knows anything. We’ll take this leap and we’ll see. We’ll jump and we’ll see. That’s life.”

The only solution is to jump over and over again. It gets easier each time. Really. 

We don’t know anything- maybe your novel will become a NY Times best seller, or maybe it will sit in a drawer with the rest of the novels you write for the next 20 years. Maybe your new business is the beginning of your new empire – or maybe you’ll be closing the doors in six months because you couldn’t get any foot traffic through the door. But if you never jump, you’ll never know.

Last summer I took my daughters back to that lake I used to swim in as a kid myself. My not-so-big six-year old set her sights on that farthest float and the platform the moment we got there. After swimming out to it together, I watched her climb the ladder. A teen stopped his friend from climbing right behind her. “She’s gonna come back down,” he said to his friend.   She took one last glance at me and with a look down and a deep breath, she jumped. I saw the panic as her feet left the board but it was too late to change her decision. She splashed into the water and as she surfaced and paddled her way back to the float, she could barely contain her euphoria as I pulled her up. “I wanna go again Mom,” she said.  “I was really scared but it was totally worth it.” Atta girl.

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ImageWhen I was in high school, I wrote a play. It was the first big piece of writing I had ever attempted outside of a term paper. I had been thinking about the story line for months, I saw the characters clearly in my head and I just knew it was going to be both witty and profound. I even knew what actors would play the title roles when I became the youngest playwright to have a show produced on Broadway. Then I started to write it. Suddenly, everything that was clear in my mind became muddled. I couldn’t hear my characters anymore. Everything I wrote on the page was just a shell of what I had imagined it to be. Devastated that it wasn’t coming out anything like I wanted it to, I eventually gave up at the beginning of Act III, convinced I didn’t have the skills to be a professional writer.

A couple of years ago, I came across this quote by Ira Glass, Creative Extraordinaire, and was blown away:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

I think this quote should be handed to anyone, anytime they try something new. Seriously. Children should have to memorize it in elementary school, college-bound teens should have to expound on it in a college entrance essay and posters and billboards should be plastered with this across the world.

The people who are creatively successful out there, and by successful, I mean, enjoy their work and consistently find time to actively engage in it, get this. They’ve allowed themselves to be disappointed at times with what they’ve created and they understand that every time they try something new- whether it’s learning a new language, writing in a new genre or studying medicine after a successful law career, their ambitions will be significantly stronger than their initial output.

We’re beginners over and over and over again through life. We need to cut ourselves a little slack when the first time we do something it doesn’t come out the way we’ve constructed it in on minds. It will, eventually. But only if we have the courage to keep showing up and trying again.

So if there’s something out there you want to do, go for it. And when it doesn’t come out at all like you planned, when it’s awkward or you’re fumbling, remember that’s how it’s supposed to be. Your job isn’t to be good right out of the gate. There will be dissonance between what’s in your head and what you can actually create. That’s ok- it doesn’t mean you’re never going to be good at it. It just means you aren’t as good at it as you want to be right now. Your job is to simply keep moving forward until what’s in your head and what you create actually converge into the same thing.

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nightIt’s nearly 9:00pm Monday night. Way later than I normally start any blog posts, let alone one I intend to publish tonight. My day got away from me. I don’t know about you, but lots of my days get away from me. Funny how day-to-day life makes that happen, isn’t it? If I go to bed tonight with one less item scratched off my mental to-do list than I added throughout the day, I’ll consider that a win.

I planned to post a blog entry today. Typically I like to post in the morning – by noon at the very latest because my best hours for creativity are early, before I get bogged down in the details of my day. But I just didn’t get to it. So after a day full of life, after I got the kids to bed and the kitchen picked up, I was all ready to sit down and do some mindless web surfing. Then I remembered I didn’t get a post done today.

My first instinct was to bag it. After all, I didn’t have anything in mind. If I wrote one quickly, it probably wouldn’t be my best work. It’ll be really short. There’s always tomorrow, etc. etc. etc.

And posting later into the night – well, many people will have already closed out their computers for the day. My stats won’t be stellar. Who’s going to share it if they like it? Without time to edit and re-edit, the odds that you make a grammatical error increase. The logic part of my brain was clearly trying to win this argument. Then I thought of something else.  So maybe not as many people will see this as they usually do.  That’s okay. Because honestly, as much as I enjoy seeing that people have read my blog, ultimately I write for myself. I write about creativity because it helps me understand my own creativity and motivates me to live a more creative life in the midst of the busyness that happens every day.

So tonight, I choose creativity. Creativity that is imperfect and fumble-y and unplanned. Creativity for the sake of creativity – not numbers or hits or even for clarity or inspiration. Creativity because I can and I want to and I made a deal with myself that I chose to honor.

I’m sitting here writing when there are lots of other non-creative things I could be doing, and maybe according to the General inside my head, very likely the things I should be doing. But amazingly enough, when I get done writing tonight, all those things will still wait for me on my endless to-do list.

And at least I can go to bed knowing I got to check off the one I value the most.

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