Defeating the December Doldrums

December Doldrums

The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed.

Every year, I stall in the December Doldrums, when moving my pen across the page feels like trudging through wet, ankle deep cement. Instead of climbing out of my chair, I sit at my desk longer than I can be productive – behavior that can trigger a cascade of discontent.

The doldrums refer to the five degrees of latitude on either side of the equator where the wind dies and sailing ships are becalmed, sometimes for weeks. The term has been appropriated into the common language to describe a period of inactivity, listlessness, or stagnation.

I’ve been becalmed here before. As the calendar winds down and the northern hemisphere tilts away from the sun, my thoughts can turn as dark as the day is short.

In early December of this year, I submitted a novel to my agent. Now, I’m waiting. Submission is an act of yielding to another’s judgment, and it often elicits a sense of helplessness in me. I’ve done all I can, and now the fate of my work is in others’ hands.

Doldrums

Self doubt comes to roost.

I wait and I fret. Self doubt perches in my soul.

To wait in the dark of the year only intensifies my feelings of being unsettled, listless, itchy in my own skin.

But I’ve been around this bend before, and I’ve learned that the wind will pick up. In the meantime, there are activities I can do to make waiting for it more bearable. Here are five ways I navigate through the doldrums.

1. Declutter

One of my favorite ways to wait out the doldrums is to clear clutter and organize the nests of papers, piles of books, and tangles of string too short to be saved. The number of places in my house where I could apply this organizing energy attests to how infrequently I’m becalmed.

2. Get Outside

I also know that even better than cleaning is getting outdoors. This year, we’ve been blessed with early snow followed by bright, cold days. I’ve skied myself stiff, replacing psychic pain with physical aches.

3. Give Gifts; Volunteer

Last Sunday, I offered Writing to the Light, a free writing workshop. Fifteen people showed up, wrote and shared their stories. They enjoyed stepping out of the holiday circus for reflection, and they all expressed appreciation for my efforts, which made me feel good.

4. Check the Data

It’s easy to see only what’s lacking while in the doldrums. This is why I keep a daily account of my time.  All I have to do is look at my records for the year for a solid reality check of the work I’ve produced: weekly posts at Living In Place; bi-weekly posts for Live to Write – Write to Live; and publications for my paying markets, including broadcasts on Vermont Public Radio. I also taught grant funded literature and writing courses; gave a dozen public talks for the Vermont Humanities Council; and hosted the Rosefire Writing Circle throughout the year. This is all in addition to revising one novel; rereading another; and continuing research for a piece of non-fiction. I’ve increased my readership and my income. By all measures, 2017 has been a good year.

5. Have Faith

The sun will turn the corner, and the earth will begin its journey back to the sun. The wind will pick up and I’ll leave the doldrums. This too shall pass.

By engaging in a combination of these five activities, I’ve already caught the wind and started sailing toward the sun.

Wishing all of you light and love to carry you into the New Year.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly about Living in Place.

Telling Stories

TELLING STORIES ON THE LONG TRAIL
On August 15, 2016, we started our hike from Massachusetts to Canada on The Long Trail.

On August 15, 2016, we started telling stories as we hiked from Massachusetts to Canada on The Long Trail.

Hiking eleven hours a day is hard, but it was never boring, because my hiking buddy and I took turns telling stories.

Jan and I met in college and have been living apart ever since: she in Alaska and me in Vermont. We’ve kept in touch with infrequent letters before email and Facebook, rarely saw each other, and never phoned.

All I can say is: we were busy. We had careers and jobs, husbands, children, and nearby friends. Nevertheless, the friendship we formed in college has sustained us through long periods of separation. Hiking the Long Trail was a chance to catch up.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Jan started by narrating the story of her recent divorce, ending a marriage that appeared rock solid for thirty-seven years, until he fell in love with a co-worker. It took about five days to tell it from beginning to end, during which time we covered fifty-five miles over two significant mountains. But who noticed? I was too busy listening.

Storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Generally, I walked ahead and set the pace while Jan served as my live audiobook, telling me a story that’s rich, complex, heartbreaking and wonderful. Yes, wonderful. While the process of decoupling was at times harrowing and heartbreaking, Jan is on a new path of enormous personal growth. And in addition to the through line – the divorce – Jan filled me in with lots of backstory about her last thirty-odd years in Juneau, stories about her children, her siblings, parents, co-workers, and friends.

Eventually, Jan’s story caught up to the present and it was my turn. I told Jan about my work “advancing issues through narrative; telling stories to create change,” about my life in small-town Vermont, my children, my brothers, my parents, my friends. I also told Jan about my surprising thirty-year marriage.

Right after I decided I would never marry, I met Tim, pictures with me here, thirty years later.

A month after I decided I would never marry, I met Tim, pictured with me here, thirty years later.

Right after college, I was the one who decided I’d rather be single than marry one of men I’d dated and dumped. In July of 1984, I’d decided I’d probably never get married or have kids, and I was okay with that. In August, I met Tim. Jan’s never dated, so I told her the stories that led me to develop my rule: the worst thing about a partner had to be better than the worst thing about living alone.

Since we were walking the length of Vermont, I also told her stories about the Green Mountain State – history, personalities and politics – topics I’ve researched for two novels, countless commentaries and many public lectures.

MOMENTS OF SILENCE

At day’s end, we took time for quiet reflection.

Occasionally, one of us would ask for fifteen minutes of silence. It never lasted that long. Almost all the time we were walking, we talked. This may help explain while we never saw any charismatic mega-fauna like deer or moose; they would have heard us coming. But once we made camp, we stopped. Off the trail, we retreated to quiet reflection.

STORYTELLING AND ENDURANCE

We quickly realized that storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Once we’d run out of autobiography, we told stories about mutual friends, about books we’d read, about movies and plays we’d seen, music we’d heard and other adventures we’d had in different parts of the world.

And because we’re both the sort of people who like to find meaning in what we do, we carried on a meta-discussion about the hike itself: what we were learning from walking day after day over challenging terrain. This led to Lessons From the Long Trail, a series of essays which you can read on my blog.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STORIES

Storytelling is a distinctly human activity. It’s how we make sense of the world, and how we connect with others. Telling stories shapes our experience, and hearing them expands our knowledge. Knowing the same stories creates community.

Telling stories is central to the human experience. Being a storyteller is an honorable job. Keep writing your stories.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

Deborah Lee Luskin tells stories every Wednesday on her blog.

A little bit of bribery often does a writer good

 

I’ve been writing up the walk I took this summer with my son, but it’s going slow. I found out that each day took about 3-4 posts to complete. What I was doing was writing the post, editing it and then getting it up on my blog.

Then I’d go have lunch.

Seriously. A single post expanded to the time I allowed it to have – which was all morning.

In reality, that’s not so bad, I mean it was a way to get the work out – slowly but surely.

But the problem is I have other projects that I want to start, other stories that I want to write.

So I’ve begun bribing myself.

I take myself to the beautiful library the next town over (that has a quiet room) and I sit my butt in the chair until I write up a full day from my walk. This morning I finished Day 9 (of 16.) It takes about 3.5 hours to write up each day, but in that time I get almost a week’s worth of posts. And it will soon free up my time to write other pieces.

You would not believe how my mind tries to get out of sitting in that chair.

  • My back hurts.
  • I need to get up and stretch.
  • I wonder if I locked the car.
  • Maybe I can stop early and then tack on what I need to do to tomorrow’s writing session.

Here’s where the bribery comes in. *If* I can finish a full day’s write-up (about 4,000 words total) *then* I can have lunch in a nice restaurant. Trust me, when you work out of your home and lunch usually consists of leftovers from the night before, a good lunch is tempting.

Tempting enough for me to finish what I need to do.

While my wallet is getting lighter, my manuscript is getting larger and that sits well with me.

So if you find that you’re stuck, if you feel like you’d rather do *anything* than sit down and write, try a little bribery.

I can personally recommend the Massaman curry just around the corner.

My favorite.

My favorite.

***

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.

Being Grateful and Giving Thanks

With the momentum for stress building due to the upcoming (US) holidays, I find it more important than ever to take a few minutes each day to give thanks and be grateful for all that I have – regarding my writing life and my whole life.

Diane wrote about how gratitude is one of the best feelings we human beings can feel. And she opened by talking about how when we’re in a state of appreciation, we can’t also (at the same time) be in a state of fear or lack. She shares some of what she’s thankful for and has great prompts for us.

Julie talked about the gratitude journal after reading Simple Abundance. It suggests writing down 5 things, every day that you are truly grateful for. She gave us a baker’s dozen of writing-related things she’s grateful for.

Being-Thankful

I have a gratitude / thankful journal, but don’t write in it every day.  I do, however, give thanks every day. If I’m not writing the items down, I’m spending a few moments before bed saying my thanks out loud. Sometimes it can be a lot more than 5 things, sometimes the 5 things became the basics: fresh air, clean clothes, food in the fridge that wasn’t moldy, hot water, a new writing project.

I used to find the holiday season stressful: pressure to find the ‘right’ gift, dealing with family dynamics, increased traffic, crowded malls, work deadlines that didn’t account for all the delays due to increased traffic and crowded malls, cards to write and mail, and, oh, decorating! So much to do and not enough time to do it!

It’s this time of year, and during stressful moments, when we need to pause, take a deep breath, and spend a moment connecting with what is good.

Stop. For a moment.

Breathe. Slowly in, hold it, slowly out.

See.

Be still, breathe, and look around.

Look not just at what is around you at the moment in the physical space, but look around inside yourself and discover all the positive feelings, recognize what makes you smile, listen to the sounds around you.

You can be grateful for being able see, feel, and hear. Already 3 things, right there. You may see a mess that needs to be cleaned up. You may feel aches and pains. You may hear a generator instead of silence. But you can be grateful to have those sensations, those abilities — not everyone does.

As Thanksgiving comes rushing toward us this week, I hope you can find a minute each day to pause and either write down or say out loud, at least 5 things you are grateful or thankful for.

This morning I’m grateful for technology (to do my work), the sunrise (to light up the room), fresh coffee (need I say more), writing projects (to pay the bills), and fleece (to keep the chill away).

What are at least 5 things you are grateful for right now?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Writers’ Forum Achievement Chart

Each month I pick up a copy of a British writing magazine called Writer’s Forum. It’s much like our American counterpart – Writer’s Digest, but it often offers a new perspective on the art and craft of writing.  Unfortunately it’s imported so by the time I get it most of the events listed have passed, but the technique and reflection articles remain as relevant as ever. In my humble opinion, it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

coverThe centerfold is always the current month’s calendar meant to be removed and hung near your desk. On each day of the month, various authors’ birthdays are listed. Garrison Keiller – August 7th, HP Lovecraft – August 20th, Mary Shelley – August 30th. For August 2015 there is not one day that doesn’t have an author listed. Authors are absolutely everywhere – if that’s not enough to keep you inspired, I’m not sure what is.

I love tools that help with writing and off to the side of each calendar is an invaluable form called “The Achievement Chart” with room for you to fill in what you have done during that month to achieve your writing goals. It is a tremendous tool – easy, succinct, and it forces you to take accountability for your actions.

Because, remember, if the desire to write is not followed by the act of writing then the desire is not to write.

This single, simple tool will keep you honest to your goal of being a writer and is intended for you to keep track of your ever forward movement (and if you’re not moving forward then consider this a kick in the butt to do so.)

Here are the monthly achievement items from Writer’s Forum:

MONTHLY ACHIEVEMENT CHART

Topics are ideas researched:
Number of words I will write each day/week:
Stories written/submitted:
Feature ideas sent out:
Agents approached:
Courses/workshops/events attended:
New things tried:
Books read:
Writing related income and expenditure:

Total earned:

Total spent:
Sum up your writing (for the month) in one word:

****

That it, isn’t it beautiful? An easy, reflective tool that keeps you honest about your work and keeps track of your progress. Imagine filling this form out each month and then at the end of the year pulling them all up to evaluate your writing progress. I think you would be amazed at how much you actually did in the name of writing.

Give it a try and report back to us on how it worked. Did you love it? Was it too bothersome? In some cases did it call you out because you haven’t been working toward your goal or did it validate all your efforts toward being the writer that you really want to be?

***

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). (http://www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

A Little Effort Today Can Lead to Big Results a Year from Now

If you’re struggling with writing – find yourself unable to get any creative writing done – you should know that even the smallest effort you make to move forward today can reap noticeable results a year from now.

If you started writing 5 minutes a day last week, after my last post, I bet you’re already writing more than 5 minutes a day. Now imagine where you’ll be a year from now if you keep building on the number of minutes a day you write, or how many words you write from day to day.

Consider this: even if you only practiced your writing craft 5 minutes a day for 365 days, you’d have a lot more written than the prior 365 days (if you didn’t have a goal). I know this is true for me.

If I don’t start slow and build up, slowly, I’ll end up discouraged, frustrated, overwhelmed, disappointed, and most likely will quit all together. It explains why I have several partially-started novels ‘sitting in a drawer.’ When a task becomes overwhelming it’s common to drop and run away.

Ever hear the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Apply it to your writing (or any other) goals.

Starting slow, today, can lead to big results a year from now.

Getting started is typically the most difficult part of writing (or anything), and then enthusiasm kicks in, and huge bursts of inspiration and motivation, but then comes the overwhelm and the quick downward trend until you aren’t doing anything any more. (sound familiar?)

5 minutes

Start slow. Get your butt in the chair and write or type for 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes. Write whatever wants to get onto the page. Don’t stress over it. Don’t think about it. Just write. For 5 minutes.

Then stay with 5 minutes a day until you discover you’re writing 10 minutes a day with ease. Then change your goal to 10 minutes a day.

Make the writing whatever you want it to be – whether it’s working on the same story idea each day, or simply getting words onto the page. Once writing becomes a habit, you’ll be able to make more decisions, but for now, just get started.

For me, I think I’ll build up to 20 minutes a day and then stay with that goal (even if I’m writing more than that). That way, if a low writing day comes along, I’ll be in the habit of at least 20 minutes and be able to complete that goal consistently.

What do you think? If you start writing 5 minutes a day today, do you think you’ll be advanced in your craft 1 year from now?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, technology, and realty businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

I’m Going to Camp!

My son is going to camp this summer, and so am I! Camp NaNoWriMo, that is!

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.03.00 AMCamp NaNoWriMo is a spin-off from National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, or even NaNo.

The best part about Camp NaNo, from my perspective, is the ability to choose my own word count. In order to “win” NaNo, you have to write 50,000 words in the month of November. In order to “win” camp NaNo, all you have to do is complete the word count you’ve set for yourself.

And you can change the word count even after July 1st. (At some point you have to let it stand, but I’m not exactly sure what that date is.)

Since I have always found 1,667 words a day to be daunting, no matter how fast I get my fingers to type, I’ve decided to take the attitude that it’s summer, and the living is easy, so why not cut that 50,000 word count in half?

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.29.15 AMI can do 25,000 words in July, right? There’s even one more day in the month of July than in the month of November, so my daily word count goal is only 807.

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you know that I love to set goals. And I love the outside accountability of the (Camp) NaNo community. I’ve signed up, committed to the word count, made a small cash donation to keep it real, and now I’m just waiting for July 1st when I can start watching my word count go up, up, up!

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 10.30.00 AMAs an added measure of accountability, I’ve asked to be assigned to a “cabin” with up to 11 other writers who are also writing nonfiction and who have a similar word count. I’ll find out my cabin assignment tomorrow. Can’t wait!

The biggest reason I’ve signed up for Camp NaNo is to put my goal of writing at the forefront of my brain. If I don’t, life will intervene, I’ll do a million other things in July, and I’ll be bummed out at the end of the month when I haven’t done the thing that is most important to me.

Writing is so personal; it’s only for me. It doesn’t benefit my family in any way, so it often gets pushed down the To-Do List until it falls off. Somehow, signing up for something like Camp NaNo helps me keep it at the top of my To Do List, even though it’s still really just for me.

Anyone else out there want to go to camp with me? Camp NaNo, here we come!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and grandmother. I’m excited to be coming to a time when I’ll have a little more time to write and I appreciate all the support this community has given me. Happy writing, everyone!