It started with a halfhearted promise to my wife. I wanted to do something significant for my newborn daughter so I promised to write in a journal every day for the first year of her life. Today I am writing in one for my fourth child.
Writing can be a funny thing. Like anything we want to change in our lives, a simple daily routine can seem monotonous, minuscule drops in a bucket.
One paragraph, one page.
Nothing of importance.
But what began with a single word is now a little pile of journals.
I don’t have a lot of words packed in the bindings of these books but I hope they will be cherished. After all, they are about birth, the struggle for sleep, trying to slow down and savor the quiet moments, and the joy our brief lives can have.
I have written hundreds of thousands of words and will certainly write more still, but there will be nothing I am more proud of than these simple looking journals.
If you are reading this chances are you want to do something extraordinary. The problem is that you need margin in your life to make it happen and just don’t have the time.
How do you create this space?
No one can conjure up another three hours each day unless you are Hermione Granger with a Time Turner. But what we can do is cross examine how we spend our most precious resource and see if it matches our long term goals.
FINDING THE LOST HOURS
Get ready. This may be painful. Do you watch The Walking Dead? Is Sunday ‘football day’? How much time do you spend on Facebook? These are the lost moments, or hours, that we need for our passions.
If you want to go after your dream, something has to go, at least at first. There is no possible way to continually add new items to your agenda. When you have your empire up and running, perhaps you can sneak in a little football, but not now.
WHAT TO DO NOW
Now is the time for action. Now is the time to push harder than ever before or as Jon Acuff puts it, we must hustle. The best way to do this? Evaluate the time we spend on things other than our spouse, family, and job and then ask ourselves if several hours of football-like activity is worth our long term goals.
Are you losing time each week? How can you reclaim those hours and put them to good use?
When I announced I was going to do a My Novel Recommit challenge to get back to writing every day again, I didn’t realize I’d selected one of the busiest weeks I’ve had in a while at home and at work to do it.
But I did it. 7012 words in 7 days.
Many days I wrote until 1230am was up in the middle of the night with kids and then up at 630. It was rough. In the middle I knew I couldn’t do it. In the end I powered through. It’s always a thrill to meet a deadline.
I am going to put the books on the backburner for the next two weeks as I finish the preparations on my talk at the Breathe Writers Conference on Worldbuilding. I’ll tell you more about it later.
What I learned the most from this writing challenge is that no matter the tools or limited time that you have you must keep writing. That is the one and only key to being a writer and for some reason its the hardest thing to do.
I hope you find sometime this weekend to write. Create a challenge or be ready when I put another one up on my blog next month.
Art in community can create extraordinary things. Consider Tolkien’s and Lewis’ Inklings or Hemingway’s’ and Steins’ Stratford-on-Odeon. These are just a couple of writer communities that shaped fiction today.
The conference my writers group puts on twice a year – the Jot Writers Conference – is not earth shattering or genre changing but I’d like to share with you three separate conversations I had. If you were there and have something to share, please do so in the comments section below.
As we finished the sign in portion of the conference and the first speaker was about to begin, I met someone from a local publisher. They were a new establishment and wanted to reached out to our writers group to share the news. They even traveled down from Grand Rapids, where we are from, to connect. This is what conferences are all about. Making friends and connections. If you are in Michigan, connect with them here.
After I finished my presentation about blogging I answered questions and made my way to the back of the room. There I met a woman who said she heard about the conference from a local author who volunteered at the Council on Aging. She asked me what she needed to do to get a blog started.
I was thrilled that someone who is well into retirement was considering something new. If I reach that age, I hope to have that sort of gusto to try new things.
A few writers who attended the Jot Conference in Grand Rapids came to the event in Three Rivers. One of them found me after my talk and said she wanted to shout Amen! as I was speaking. I’m not a preacher but this brief comment meant a lot. Every writer and speaker needs encouragement. This helped boost my confidence for the next time I speak in a few weeks.
I took away many thoughts from Jot that I am still working through. Three of them that I think of now connect with the bite sized stories above. Writing in community can create connections, that it’s never to late to try anything, and that a little encouragement can be just what any writer needs.
I hope you thank those in your community often.
Nothing is built overnight and nothing is built alone.
Have you experienced the joy, encouragement, and comradery in your writers group? Please share below.
Ever have an unexpected change that caused you to dig deep and work hard at a moments notice? It happened to me this past week.
This week I was out of the office for a business trip. When I prepared for it a few weeks ago, my coworker and I had a discussion about a presentation one of us had to do while we were there. We decided it would be best for him to do it.
Then, last week, on Friday morning, we discovered another topic would be much more relevant. However, I had more knowledge of the day to day. Thus, it was decided that I would do the presentation. I had two days to prepare.
My first reaction to this change was to ask him to do it because I like to be prepared and I was nervous. But I knew the best way to convey this information was to lean on my knowledge and experience.
Below, I list five things that I learned about this unexpected challenge.
Low Level Stress Can Be Good.
We’ve all heard stress is terrible and to avoid it. But studies have shown that low level stress releases a chemical called neuotrophins that strengthens connections in our neurons which boosts concentration and productivity. Strange eh? Once I told myself I was going to do it, I was able to focus.
Before Saying No. Prepare As If You Said Yes Then Decide
My first reaction was to say no. But instead of doing so, I gave it some thought. What if I did do it? What information would I need? Once I did this I gained a little confidence and I thought it might not be that bad.
Do You Know It? You Can Do It.
The presentation basically surrounded what I’ve done for their customers and what I do day to day. I realized that no one knew more information about this topic than I did.
Think. What’s The Real Reason The Situation Scares Me?
My main concern revolved around the fact that I thought I’d ruin a highly valuable partnership if I messed up. The pressure mounted. Then a realization hit me, one that deflated my fear. I am being entrusted with this presentation because of my expertise. My company trust me enough to represent it.
Grab The Stage. It’s Time To Grow.
Their are experiences in life that build upon one another. If I am going to speak, I need to practice. If I am going to write novels, I need to write short stories. This was not something to fear. This is what I felt before hockey games in college or grabbing my diploma and heading off into the workforce. This was an opportunity to seize. Not shy away from. And that I did.
Have you ever planned a wedding or party or event and had something go array? It was a huge deal at the time. You still think about it and shudder.
But you know who noticed it?
Probably no one.
Even if you mentioned it to an individual that attended the debacle do you know what they’d most likely say? Nothing. They would just give you a confused look like they have no idea what you are talking about.
But fear is a pervasive jerk that is bound to show up again and again. It can ruin a future opportunity and also your dreams.
Often, because we don’t succeed or get hurt, we refuse to put ourselves out there again. You wrote a story and no one liked it. What if that happened again? True you might be devastated, but do you know who’s keeping score of every time you fail?
Ever heard of Thomas Edison? He failed hundreds of times trying to make a light bulb.
The difference with Edison is that he viewed the task he wanted to complete as a puzzle. He tried to solve it and if it didn’t work he’d try another piece, another method, another direction.
Over ten years ago I had a grand vision for a book series. I still do. I wrote the first book over and over again until I had about seven drafts. After much toil I decided to lay the book to rest. It was hard but it was time to move on.
Have you ever experienced this? Great expectations followed by severe disappointment?
I ask this not just to writers or artists but to anyone in any walk of life.
Often we have a grand vision for how something should go, but all we end up with is a horrible mess.
This prompts a question that can only come from retrospect.
Was the journey worth it?
Leaving with high hopes and coming up with nothing may seem like failure. Perhaps it is the Top Five Strength of Positivity shining through right now, but I firmly believe it doesn’t have to be this way. We can have fresh restarts and life giving lessons from these experiences.
Take my novel for instance. I worked for over a decade on it and poured hundreds of thousands of words and thousands of hours all for a novel that ends terribly.
But I learned that finishing well is important. That a book cannot end openly, even for a series. I had outstanding critiques and input from friends that shaped it in a beautiful way and learned about the joy of community that every writer needs.
Most of all, failure made me a better writer.
Now, I have a new project. One that has a solid ending, good characters, and a focused POV from the start.
And I wouldn’t have any of this if I didn’t go on the previous novel writing journey.
My family traveled to upstate New York to visit my in-laws a few weeks ago. On vacations everything can be a little relaxed. The usage of time, personal goals, and of course being conscious about what I eat.
When I returned from the trip, I weighed myself. I am six feet two inches and for the last ten years I have hovered between 189 and 195 pounds. This time? It read a hefty 201. This may not seem like a big deal to you but we all have that weight we’ll never get to in a million years. Mine was 200. It came as a shock.
While writing down some new goals on fitness that I plan to begin next week, I pondered how I got to this place.
The reason? I was living on impulse.
When we traveled I gave little heed to what I was eating or drinking. I don’t usually have soda but I know I had plenty. Desserts? Of course. I’m spending time with family gathered around a table, so of course I’m going to have a few dozen cookies.
Also, I drove for over eight hours twice in a four day time period.
This was an extreme lack of discipline, one that came on with the suddenness of a summer storm.
Now, it’s back to good habits. Saying no to some things, like sleep. I need to finish this blog.
Where do you need to work on suppressing impulse and instilling good habits?
Three years ago my writers group had a crazy idea. Hey let’s throw a writers conference. At first, it was cute. What did we know about launching a conference? Four conferences later, around two hundred and fifty people have attended Jot.
Regular attendees are budding poets and professional novelists. We’ve kept the conference free thanks to Baker Books House and the donations of time from the Weaklings writers group and gracious local authors.
This installment of Jot is tremendously exciting. We have an award winning illustrator and children’s book writer, an owner of a literary agency, a newly published novelist, and an established writer that volunteered their time to share with you what they know.
After the presentations there will be an opportunity to write in the cozy store or coffee shop or attend one of three workshops.
Have you ever sat down at dinner and thought hey, I’m not actually that hungry? I’ve done this before too. Usually, it is the result of a snack at work during the afternoon hours but I just eat anyway.
Occasionally, I go to bed without having exercised or worked hard at something. Sure I give a great effort at work but at times, my sleep does not feel earned.
If I am chasing my writing dream with relentlessness, Should I not feel utter exhaustion from time to time?
This past Saturday I rose at 530am to address that very thing and get some writing done. I used to do this before I had children and I felt I needed to do something drastic to keep my writing momentum going and consistently chase my dream.
Over the last week, I’ve been my most productive in months and I wanted to keep the momentum going and not stop because of the weekend.
So, I’m exhausted. But it’s not the exhaustion from the winter months it is exhaustion of the active, from the chase. Its energy spent on my dream. If that’s not worth getting up at 5 or 530, I’m not sure what is.
How far would you go to launch that company, finish that novel, or start that job search?
If it’s what you want to do (in respect to you responsibilities) it’s time to do what Red said in The Shawshank Redemption – Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.