The Art of Life

I’m on vacation (in Seattle) and I’m not getting much writing done.

Every time I plan a family vacation, I tell myself I’ll get a lot of writing done. My husband will be around, I think, to entertain our son so I picture myself sitting in a café writing while they are off doing something totally fun together.

And I plan to write every evening: My son goes to bed early and we’re all in a hotel room together so I imagine myself writing into the night by the light of my computer screen.

But the reality is we’re up before dawn every morning (due to the alarm clock that is my son, who has never met a morning he didn’t like) and we’re busy all day and by the time my son is asleep I’m very nearly ready to go to sleep, too.

Plus we are visiting family and I don’t want to miss out on this precious time with loved ones we don’t often see.

It all adds up to a lot less writing than I ever imagined.

My expectations were totally unrealistic. I can see that now, halfway through the week. My first priority here in Seattle is not to write—it’s to drink great coffee! Just kidding, although the coffee here really is amazing. (Seattle’s Best Coffee is my favorite so far.) No, my first priority is to spend time with my family.

When I visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. I saw the work of someone whose life is primarily about his art: Dale Chihuly. I am inspired by his art, his words, and his life.

Dale Chihuly has spent his life (so far) creating art, mostly in glass, and teaching his art and his techniques to others. Here’s what he had to say about the art of blowing glass:

The technology really hasn’t changed. We use the same tools today they used 2,000 years ago. The difference is that when I started, everyone wanted to control the blowing process. I just went with it. The natural elements of fire, movement, gravity and centrifugal force were always there, and are always with us. The difference was that I worked in this abstract way and could let the forces of nature have a bigger role in the ultimate shape.”

–Dale Chihuly

I love how he talks about the way he allowed the glass to flow. It sounds so natural, so organic.

When I think about my life as my art, I realize I’m letting my life flow in a natural way. I used to try to control the process of living, every little thing, but now I practice control by controlling my mind and reminding myself that I am the only one I can control. The result is more joy, more peace, and (at least most of the time) more writing.

I’m living my life, a life that includes writing, and letting it flow. It’s much more organic than it used to be when I tried to muscle everything into it’s proper place.

When my expectations don’t match my reality, I adjust my expectations. I don’t beat myself up, or try to cram everything in to the point of exhaustion, but I also don’t avoid writing because “I don’t have enough time.”

And now I have the image of Dale Chihuly in my mind, reminding me with his gorgeous glass art how beautiful life can be when we go with the flow.

Is your writing part of the flow of your life?

News from Diane MacKinnon: I‘ve planned a writing retreat for the fall. It’s a one-day event, September 20, and I’m so excited about it! If you are local, I hope you’ll join me. You can find out more about my one day writing retreat by clicking here.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, circle practitioner, mother, stepmother, and family physician. I’m so grateful for  the long summer days to enjoy with my family and friends, including my books and my journal.

Not worse, just different

A large part of this blog is sharing what it is that writers actually do (when we are not communing with spiders.) If you’ve been following this blog then you know I have recently finished a manuscript and have sent it out to some literary agents. While I have gotten a few nibbles, most of them, like the proverbial big one, have gotten away (although it is still being evaluated by one agent and I have a slew of others to still try)

No one loves me, I thought, I think I’ll go eat worms. Then I got a reply from an acquiring editor for a publisher – she liked my e-proposal. She liked my presentation. She invited me to send a full hard-copy proposal.

I need to prepare what is, essentially, a “board meeting quality” presentation on my book including:
• Letter of introduction – who referred me, qualifications
• Book description – one paragraph (elevator pitch)
• Why this book is needed and who the audience will be
• Current competitors
• Platform and credentials
• Table of contents
• Length, general appearance, photographic and illustrative requirements
• Previously published writing samples
• 50 pages of manuscript

Because I have a ton of online marketing experience, I’m also going to add a section on:
• Marketing plan

And because I’m pretty good friends with a number of people in my field (chickens), I’m also going to add:
• Endorsements/blurbs

I thought I could get all of this done during this week but, although I know where most of this information is, it’s important that I don’t just throw everything together. I need to present a polished and finished package that will wow the socks off of everyone. You can bet that this puppy will have a title page, TOC, and will be housed in a protective binder.

It will take a dedicated few days to get it all done, and that’s what I’ll be doing this coming weekend.

Keep this information in mind when you get to the point of querying your project. There’s more than one route to publication. Everyone has their own way of doing things and, because this is an acquisition editor and not a literary agent, the submission requirements are vastly different.

Not better, not worse, just not the same.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Resistance

I’m listening to the book, The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield and Shawn Coyne, and I find it very interesting. Mr. Pressfield talks about the resistance every artist has to manage in order to get his or her work done in the world. He equates resistance with fear, self-doubt, self-sabotage and every other thought, belief, feeling, or action that stops us from getting to work.

While listening, I started to think about Deborah’s recent post to this blog: Be Boring, and Julie’s response post, A Different Color Refrigerator.

It struck me that Deborah “combats” her resistance to her creativity by cultivating an orderly life that allows her plenty of time to write. Julie deals with her resistance by cultivating a multi-faceted but balanced life that includes writing.

How do I deal with resistance? Mostly by managing my mind. Starting with the old saying, “The mind is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.”

When I let my mind go wild, thinking fearful thoughts about my work in the world and my writing, I get nothing done.

Who can get anything done when they are thinking thoughts like these?

  • I don’t have time to get anything done.
  • I have nothing to say.
  • No one wants to hear what I have to say.
  • This is drivel.
  • Why bother when so many others can do it better than you?

I start by questioning each thought. When I do, I find that none of the above thoughts are really true. Some of them go away as soon as I really look at them, others take a little more work.

I believed the thought: I don’t have time to get anything done, for many years. But when I examined that thought, I noticed it was ridiculous. I’m getting something done all the time, even if it’s just typing this sentence, or making a sandwich, or reading a book.

I did a bunch of experiments to see how much I could actually get done in 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or half an hour. I was continually surprised by how much work I got done, no matter how small the window of time I gave myself.

So now I routinely think: I have time to get something done.

When I manage my thoughts about my writing, I decrease my resistance (my fear) and I’m better able to sit down in the chair and write, even if I only have 15 minutes or half an hour (which is almost every day). Some days I have many 15 minutes or half-hours to write and they add up to an hour or more, but only if I use each one, rather than resisting the urge to write and squandering that time on something less dear to my heart.

How do you manage your resistance?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother and stepmother. I’m enjoying each 15 minute segment of time that I get to spend working on my craft. Even if I do it in 15-minute increments, it will eventually add up to 10,000 hours! Check out my life coaching blog to see what I’ve come up with during some of those hours.

 

Be Boring

steal artistBe Boring.

Not in your writing, but in your life.

Be Boring.

Be Boring is Rule Number 9 out of 10 in Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative by Austin Kleon. And when I read this rule, I sighed with relief, because my day-to-day life is a snore – to everybody but me.

I’ve been writing a novel for going on three years, and the end is in sight. But the way I’ve arrived at this juncture is by living a very quiet, ordinary, life. . As Kleon explains, “It’s the only way to get the work done.”

He quotes Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary:

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.

This is not, of course, how Hemingway and Fitzgerald worked, but their biographies compete with their work, and they burned out early from alcoholism (Fitzgerald) and suicide (Hemingway). Not the way I want to go.

Kleon makes a few, simple, recommendations on how to be boring – and be vibrantly creative:

  • Take care of yourself: eat right, get sleep, brush your teeth.
  • Keep your day job, because it gives you “money, a connection to the world, and a routine.”
  • Keep a calendar: plan when you’re going to write and what – and stick to it.
  • Keep a logbook: this is a way to hold yourself accountable and also keep track of your work. (See Accounting for Your Time)
  • Marry well: Kleon says this may be the most important decision you ever make, which is very old school. There’s a lot to be said for marriage, and I’ve been lucky in mine, but marriage is hard, and not for everyone. That said, the partners, lovers, friends, and/or relatives who see you through thick and thin all deserve books dedicated to them.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog, know that I rarely contribute to the Saturday Edition, where contributors recap what they’ve written during the past week and what they’ve read. I don’t contribute because I’d write the same thing week after week: Worked on my novel this week.

It’s what I’ve been doing, week after week for going on 130 weeks – and counting. And you know what? It pays off. I have a good book that’s getting better every day I sit down to work on it, which is at least five days a week.

In the end, my biography will not be a compelling one – and that’s okay with me. It’s my stories that count.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin lives a boring life in southern Vermont, where she writes fiction, radio commentaries, and editorial columns. Between paragraphs, she walks, gardens, cooks, plays the piano badly, worries, and stares out the window – among other activities. Find her on the web at www.deborahleeluskin.com

This is why I teach

Yesterday was the second to the last session for my Technical Writing class.

A-Plus-StudentBack on the first day of class, I asked the students if any of them thought they would be learning something useful out of this class.

No one, not a single student raised their hand. Technical Writing was a required course. They were in the class because they had to be not because they wanted to be.

The first day of class, I asked them to write a short paper. No one wrote more than 2 paragraphs and there was no rhyme or reason to what they wrote. It was nearly impossible for them.

This is good, I thought, I can work with this.

I’ve spent the semester teaching them how to organize their writing, how to identify the audience, tone, topic and purpose (ATTP.)

We’ve talked about brainstorming ideas on a topic and then grouping those ideas under appropriate headers.

We’ve talked about starting with an introduction and ending with a conclusion.

Week by week, through the use of examples and stories, I tried to get my students to understand how important organization of information was when writing. How easy it made writing.

Yesterday in class, I passed out a handout with instructions on “How to phone an elected official.” Outline a paper for me on this topic, I told them.

Initially I heard groans, but then I saw them get to work. They underlined and made notations on the handout.

On the white board, I took them through the steps listed below. They first identified the ATTP.

Then using the handout they brainstormed topics. Once they did that, they grouped the topics and realizing that some information was missing in the “order of events” (they added a section on how to find a representative’s phone number) they added additional topics.

Finally they put the topics into an order that made sense (they decided that chronological sequence was most effective) and surrounded that list with an introduction and conclusion.

Within an hour, I had these students, who had thought they wouldn’t learn anything devise a solid outline for a short paper. All they needed to do was to write 2-3 paragraphs under each identified topic and they would have a first draft.

If they then added quotes and stories, they would have written a “how-to article.”

I told them that there was not one student in the class who couldn’t take this outline and give me a draft the next day. Through organization of information, we had turned what early in the semester has seemed like an impossible task into one that was bite-sized and very doable.

It was the look on their faces when I pointed this out, that has made all of my work this past semester worth the time and effort it has taken.

My class of students, none of whom had wanted to be there, have learned.

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This is an organizational handout I gave my students.

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The 6 Steps for Reader Centered Writing
KEEP THIS HANDOUT FOR ALL TIME

Step 1: Analyze your readers. Determine ATTP
Step 2: Outline your information. Brainstorm your ideas. Write them down, use post-its, or draw them out in a web outline.
Step 3: Group like information under headlines.
Step 4: Sequence your ideas. Figure out the order in which you present information based on your ATTP. Include abstract, introduction, and conclusion.
Step 5: Write the first draft. Write at least 2-3 paragraphs under each header
Step 6: Edit for clarity, conciseness, and accuracy. Check facts, spelling, definitions, and if you have missed information that you assumed your reader knew. Make sure the document matches your ATTP (if the purpose is to convince have you done that? If it’s to ask for action is that clear?)

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

When Was the Last Time You Told Your Story?

There are three questions that healers of a Central Oregon Native American tribe ask their patients before beginning medicine work:

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

The healers believe the answers a person gives tell them how deep the illness, injury, or damage lies.

I thought of this as I was singing and dancing alone in my kitchen the other day. I thought about the times I didn’t sing or dance—or tell my story.

Whole years have gone by when I didn’t sing or dance—not even when I was alone in my house or car.

And whole years have gone by when I didn’t journal. Those times, when I stopped telling my story to myself, those were the worst times in my life. I can see it so clearly now but of course, when you’re in the middle of the bad time, you can’t see much of anything.

I started keeping a journal when I was eleven years old. Since then, there have been many times I felt I couldn’t share my thoughts or feelings with anyone else, but I wrote them in my journal as a way of working through those thoughts and feelings. A journal entry, to me, is always a dialogue with myself. Like most conversations, it usually ends with a shift or change in perspective: Some kind of resolution.

And it was a way of saying, if only to myself, “I matter. My story and my life count.”

I almost never look back at my journal entries, with the exception of my Five Year Journal. (I love seeing what I (or my son) was doing a year ago today or two years ago today.) My regular journal entries are “of the moment,” and they help me process whatever I’m going through at that particular time and place. They are only for myself and they are not interesting to me once the moment has passed.

I told my story, now I’m moving on. When I stop being able to tell my story, even to myself, I know I need to make some changes.

  • When was the last time you sang?
  • When was the last time you danced?
  • When was the last time you told your story?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, physician, mother, and stepmother. I can’t sing but I enjoy singing. I think I can dance, a little, and I enjoy that, too. I enjoy telling my story (and almost any story) best of all!

Be Your Own Cheerleader to Push to the Next Level

Do you find yourself unmotivated or drained when you look around and no one is cheering you on to achieve your goals? Does lack of support make you question your dream?

If you find yourself here, stop, take a breath, and perform a reality check.

Here’s a secret: You and only you have the power to meet and exceed your goals and turn your dreams into everyday life.

Yes, I know sometimes it’s difficult to get on the rah-rah-let’s-go train, but, honestly, does it really matter what Friend A, B, or C thinks about your dreams?

We’re each unique and need to share ourselves with the world in a manner that is true to us, individually.

The only person we need to impress is ourself. If we end up surprising family or friends, it’s a bonus. But when we can prove to ourselves our dreams and goals are achievable, well, it’s euphoric.

In my working life, I seek out writing opportunities that push me to learn more — it’s the only way I can grow. And when I nail a project, well, I do a happy dance to celebrate.

Similarly, in my personal life, I’m focused on being a better runner. Running is still new to me, but I enter races, I show up, and I cross the finish lines. I’m not first, I’m not last, but I do my best in that moment. Kudos and cheers at the end are fabulous, but what puts the biggest smile on my face is knowing what it took me to get there — and actually getting there.

Lisa 2014 Millenium Mile

You, like me, may always work (or run) with other people, but it’s our own thoughts that keep the forward momentum going — that get us to the end of the project (or finish line).

If you keep moving toward your goals, step by step, little by little, day by day — no matter what others think or say — you will achieve what it is that you want to achieve.

Believe in yourself.

Repeat after me: “I’ve got this. I’ve got this. I’ve got this. Oh, yeah, I totally have this. YEAH!”

Now, go on and get this week started!

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She just crossed her 4th runner’s finish line in 2014 and danced on her way back to her car to celebrate the victory. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.