Discovering the “Good” in Goodbye

“The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning.” Ivy Baker Priest

I’ve never much liked goodbyes. I come by it honestly. Growing up, when it came to saying goodbye, my mom used to say we were born with our kidneys too close to our eyeballs because we found them sad and were easy to cry. The two of us could see total strangers bidding each other adieu at the airport and in an instant; there would be the tears.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise (mostly to me) that I initiated my own goodbye last month. After six years at the same job, I packed up to start a new opportunity. Equally as surprising (again, only to me) was that I managed to get through my departure sans tears.

While I felt sad knowing I wouldn’t see the good friends I’d made day to day, a strange thing started to happen to me in the days leading up to my last day – I started to see some actual “good” in this whole goodbye thing.

I realized goodbyes are:

Good for getting nice notes from your colleagues and other co-workers you didn’t even know cared

Good for reminding you how much stuff you’ve really accomplished over the years in your job

Good for finding a vase of bright spring tulips on your desk

Good for seeing how much better your current hairdo is than the one on your old ID badge

Good for reminding you to take a leap every once in a while

Good for pushing yourself to go for new things

Good for taking stock of and feeling grateful for all you’ve learned and the great relationships you’ve made

Good for blog post ideas, suggested by your fellow RW (Miss Beckie!)

Good for being the recipient of a heartfelt poem written by your talented and thoughtful coworker who also happens to be a RW (thank you Andrea!)

And of course, GOOD for new beginnings.

Wish me luck!

 fantasy-island1 

 

 

 

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My writing albatross

Why can’t I write this blog post? It’s been pressing on my shoulders for three weeks now. Coleridge’s damn albatross. The emails from my fellow Restless Writers were initially gentle reminders, but have now become electrified prods like I’m a cow to be herded back to my quarters. (OK, they’re not that mean, but I am feeling the pressure.)

Every time I sit down in hopes the “grand inspiration” will come, the screen sits in silence. The keys remain idle. My fingers await their commands.

And alas, when a few words do splatter on the screen they are out of focus, blurry like a…like a…what? The simile alludes me. My muse is clearly on vacation enjoying steamy weather and sunlight, while I freeze in this record cold winter, surrounded by greying snow and the greying sky out my window reflecting the current grey in my brain.

fireplace

Where is the light in my thoughts? Where is just a spark of an idea? I’m sitting beside a fire for God’s sake! Nothing?

Have I left it too long? Have the distractions of my life stolen my ability to create something new? Perhaps I have starved Calliope for too long and she has found refuge in another writer’s home.

What’s a writer to do when a fog has descended on her creativity? Here’s are some ideas:

  • Try a writing prompt to start you off and help focus your brain.
  • Write something, anything every day – even if it’s crap – at least you’re writing.
  • Read. Read anything – about writing, a novel, a blog, poetry. Read…a lot.
  • Schedule your writing time and be disciplined to make it happen with no distractions.
  • Take a step back for a moment and set some goals. Maybe it’s time to regroup and figure out what you want to achieve with your writing. Check in to ensure you are heading in the direction you want to be with your writing. Maybe it’s time for a left-hand turn to stir things up.
  • Stop and have a good look at your life recently.  What needs to shift? Where are you out of balance? (This one’s mine. My life’s been spazzy these last months and my writing has suffered because of it.)

Writing takes persistence, perseverance and patience, and each ‘p’ word comes in waves. Sadly my surf board has been stuck behind my snow shovel lately. I haven’t been  I know I have to dig it out, once I dig my car out of the driveway. The worst ‘p’ for me is the third one. Damn that patience thing. It’s the new albatross around my neck now that this blog post is done.

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Getting to done: Applying writing advice to my life

“To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
Seneca

to-doI’m having a problem focusing these days.

This comes as no surprise to my fellow Restless Writers, to whom I have been promising a fresh new blog post since the holidays.

The symptoms of my lack of focus are not limited to delayed blog posts. I’m also finding that I can’t read a whole book. I went from neglecting a new novel, to not being able to finish a short story, to skipping whole paragraphs in Globe & Mail articles. Even my Twitter feed has started to feel like too much pressure.

And it’s not just reading. I have a to-do list as long as a Canadian winter, enough Post-It Note reminders to wallpaper my guest bathroom, and so many evening appointments and meetings that I am thisclose to forgetting what the inside of my fridge looks like. The idea of replacing the light bulb in my kitchen seems overwhelming but I know I have to do it soon because it’s hard to make G&Ts  coffee in the dark. (Hard, but not impossible.)

Many of you know that my life has taken some turns over the past six months. I’m not surprised that all these changes have affected my day-to-day life in some way, but I didn’t expect that I would turn into a slack-jawed scatterbrain. I can’t seem to finish anything I start, and hunkering down to write seems impossible.

So what to do about it?

In my search for ways to tame my monkey-brain, I turned—of course—to other writers. Who better to advise on how to focus, since so many writers struggle with the fidgets and a perverse inability to just sit down and get ‘er done already.

Here are some of the best tips I’ve culled from the Interwebs about focusing on your writing. I’ve re-jigged them so they will help me focus on my to-do list and hopefully help me read (and eventually write) that book.

Block out time, not tasks: Getting to a word count goal can seem daunting, but telling yourself that you’ll write for an hour is manageable. Likewise, if I give myself an hour in which I can tackle, say, roaming around Home Depot, it might be easier than telling myself I have to choose the perfect light fixture today.

Be mindful of distractions: You can’t avoid distractions, whether you’re writing or trying to put together an IKEA shelf. The phone will ring, emails will keep coming in, and Rob Ford will inevitably do something stupid and burn up your feeds. Identify what distracts you the most. Is it Twitter? Indulge for five minutes, but then shut it down. Text messages? Put your phone in another room. Coffee craving? Keep a carafe full of hot tasty brew on your desk so you’re not forced to hit a local Starbucks.

Say “no”: This one’s hard. Writers are very protective of their time, and often have to employ drastic measures to make sure the world doesn’t keep them from their keyboard. These days, I am trying to fill my life with people and events, so saying “no” to an invitation gives me a bit of anxiety. I have to remember that saying “no” when I feel overwhelmed will help me save my energy for when I am ready to enjoy an activity or someone’s company. (Yes, this includes dates.)

Have an accountability partner: Writers share word counts and pages all the time. Maybe I’m doing the same thing by writing about my challenges and efforts to succeed right here. I may have to call on my sisters and friends to check in and make sure I’m chipping away at life.

Track the resistance: What is it about finding the perfect light fixture that’s so goddamned difficult? The parking lot? The bone-deep chill of winter? The crush of people? Whatever it is, I need to pay attention to where the barrier is, so I can figure out a way to get around it. It’s like with writer’s block—I need to figure out what’s keeping me from moving forward.

Treat yourself: Let’s say I do manage to find that perfect light fixture when I go to Home Depot on my lunch break. Just as when I finish a writing task (like finishing this blog post–yay!), checking that off my to-do list deserves a minor celebration, whether it’s a fancy coffee or a mini-iTunes shopping spree.

Do a little every day: I can’t do everything in one day—which pisses me off a bit—so I have to give my controlling self a break. I need to celebrate the little wins, keep checking things off my to-do list, and remember that things will get easier.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard that you can also apply to your life?

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The Sky is Not the Limit

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Photograph by: FRED CHARTRAND , THE CANADIAN PRESS

Chris Hadfield is just plain cool.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Commander Hadfield, Canada’s most earthy space ambassador and author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. His presentation resembled a TED talk, it was both inspiring and motivating, and wait for it—out of this world.

The thing that struck me the most is that he started dreaming what he describes as an “impossible dream” from the age of nine. Canada did not have a space program at the time, yet, he was determined to become an Astronaut. This meant preparing very early, advancing his education, learning to fly, learning to speak several languages, and learning to play guitar (now a terrestrial superstar by crooning David Bowie’s Space Oddity). He did these things and showed us ordinary earthlings that dreams do matter, even if only a slim possibility of manifestation, it can and will happen with dedication, preparation and patience.

There are days when I think finishing my current novel is an impossible dream. But I’m half-way there, I’m resuming momentum and receiving encouragement from my fellow Restless Writers. I can do this! And I will, because I am the commander of my writing career. I am dedicated, prepared, and ever so patient in the wonderful world of literary longings. My dream of becoming a novelist is too important to remain unlived. Sure, the odds are stacked against me. But I’m still going for it!

Thanks to extraordinary people like Chris Hadfield, who not only make us proud to be Canadian but who also show us how to make the impossible a reality.

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Filed under Author events, Books and stuff, Getting published, Inspiration

Gone Fishing

What do you get when you combine four writers, one car, six tins of assorted Pringles and a beautiful bed and breakfast located steps from Lake Huron? That’s right—it’s the second annual Restless Writers retreat! 

This past weekend the Restless Writers said good bye to partners, pets, part time jobs, looming exam studies and weekend to-do’s and headed to the sunny shores of Port Elgin, ON for two uninterrupted days of all things writing.

The weekend gave us a chance to kick it into gear on our individual projects and also provided time for us to reconnect with and reflect on our goals for our writing and the RW group over the next year.

Of course we also made time to enjoy some of this…

ImageAnd this…

Image But mostly we did this…

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And wonderful it was.

Thank you Restless Writers for a most inspiring and fun getaway. Already counting the sleeps until 2014.

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A reflection on vulnerability, writing and character

TissuesI just watched a TED talk by Brené Brown about vulnerability. I love TED talks. Every time I watch one my perception about life shifts a little bit, and as a result, so does my approach to writing. In the case of Brown’s talk, I was in tears as I thought not only about my own vulnerability as an artist—clearly her message was hitting the mark with me—but also the importance of vulnerability in the characters I create.

The thing is most of us hate feeling vulnerable. We hate feeling out of control. We get paralyzed by “what if I put myself out there and I get turned down or ridiculed or end up going down a road I didn’t want to go down?” Yet, as humans we have a fundamental need to be connected to the world and to each other in order to feel truly alive. Therein lies the struggle: to feel connected, we need to be vulnerable and show who we are, but our instinct is one of protectionism. As writers we become vulnerable every day we create. It’s part of our calling. We describe and reflect the vulnerability of life, so others will be moved and their lives shifted as a result.

But vulnerability takes courage, and writers are human. We all struggle to be courageous day in and day out. I mean, how can you keep feeling courageous when a piece gets rejected or ignored over and over? How do you continue to write a story that takes you to dark places in your own life you’ve probably worked years to bury, but is needed in order to make the story authentic? Yet that journey is exactly what is necessary. As Brown even says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity.”

And what does this mean for our characters? Our characters have to reflect the same human struggle we face ourselves in the most real way. If we can effectively show a character’s struggle for connection, readers, in turn, will feel a deeper connection to our work. (Maybe this is partly what Maria was talking about in her last post about finding her character’s voice.)

So, how can you create characters that reflect this inner humanity? Well, one way, of course, is to start with yourself. Examine when you feel vulnerable. I mean, really examine it…without fear. The better you understand your own humanity, the better you can reflect the humanity of your characters. As a start, I found some ideas from Writing Through Life journaling blog.

Another way is to start with those around you and then turn what you discover onto your characters. Here are some steps:

  • Describe when they feel vulnerable and why. Is there some memory triggered?
  • What physically happens to their bodies in that state? (e.g., forehead tenses, palms become sweaty)
  • What do they say in reaction? (e.g., turn to blame someone else? Try to exert control in the situation or command that they are “right”?)
  • What do they do as a result? (e.g., many try to numb the feeling of discomfort by drinking or eating excessively or taking pills. When developing your characters, remember these actions also numb joy and love at the same time, like Brown indicates.)
  • Now, write when they feel the opposite, i.e., in control. What does that look like? You can repeat the other steps from this point of view.

As Brown concludes her talk and I’m near the end of my Kleenex box, she reminds us that what makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful. So, keep your courage to be vulnerable as you write because it is fundamental to what makes your work beautiful too.

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Get up close and personal with your character on a field trip

Baboons at the zooOne of the characters in my newest short story is mute. Not on purpose—it’s just that I don’t know enough about him to get him to say anything. So far, all I’ve got out of him is “yep,” “nope,” and a couple of nods and glares. And he’s kind of important. He’s a great, big, gaping cipher in the middle of my story, and I need to figure him out before I can move forward.

It shouldn’t be this hard, right? He’s an imaginary person, and I can pretty much get him to do or say what I want.

Whatever he does or says, it has to jive with the choices he makes within the story. His actions and the things he says have to be authentic and honest, even if they are all imaginary.

I recently re-read an interview with Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus. She said that she was bored with her original story and decided to send the characters to the circus to stir things up. I was inspired, and decided to see if sending my character on a field trip would help me figure him out.

Field trip # 1: The zoo

Okay, it’s a lot like the circus, so no points for originality–but it’s definitely a destination where almost anything can happen. I found out that my character is “that guy” who will jump into the baboon enclosure if someone dared him to and if there was an audience.

Field trip # 2: A job interview

Not exactly a walk in the park, but this helped get my character talking about himself and his past, and helped me understand how he would react under stress. I found out he’s a bit of a showman in an interview, and adept at highlighting his accomplishments. But he is stymied when questions about organization and prioritization come up. Maybe I should get him to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator next. Hmm…

Field trip # 3: A funeral

This was a bit of a downer, but it helped me get a grip on how well my character would mingle with other people in a more somber, emotional environment. It turns out he is uncomfortable with displays of emotion, and doesn’t want to be relied on to help other people manage their problems or their grief. He prefers to work through his own emotions by himself, and he expects other people to do the same. Sheesh. No wonder his girlfriend is on the fence.

So will any of this help? I think the exercise was valuable. As I continue to flesh out the scenes in my story, these tidbits about my character will help me figure out how he reacts to events, how he interacts with other people, and why he makes certain decisions. It might even change where my story ends up. And I hope that will help make my story better.

What about you? Where will you take your characters?

Maria

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Filed under Inspiration, Trials and Tribulations, Writing ideas