Three Things I Learned From Writing Every Day

It’s December 31st and I have successfully completed the December Writing Challenge. I have blogged every day for this month. Although there were a few days that I didn’t meet the word count or the posting time, I did meet the goal of writing every day. And through the process I have learned three valuable lessons.

  1. You can alway find time to write. There have been plenty of times this month, including this very moment, when it wasn’t convenient to sit down and write. However, I didn’t allow myself to be stray away from my goal. I prioritized my time. Sometimes that meant getting up earlier in the morning. Other times it meant pulling away from other activities. Either way, I made time to write.
  2. The words will come if you give them time. There were several times when I sat at my computer without a clue as to what I would write about. I would actually start typing words like, “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t feel like doing this”, and slowly but surely the words would come. In fact, the days that I didn’t know what to write were often the best days. Those post would get more likes than the post I spent more time thinking about.
  3. There is an audience out there who is interested in what you have to say. When I started this challenge, I didn’t really think people would follow or even notice what I was doing. But amazingly enough, just when I would start to feel discouraged or want to give-up, I’d receive an email from someone commenting on one of my post or someone new would begin to follow my blog. Knowing that I wasn’t writing in oblivion kept me going. It’s made me think quote from Field of Dreams is true: “If you build it, they will come.”

I’m glad I took the challenge. It’s been a great experience. But I am also glad it’s over. I’m really looking forward to a day off. I’ll be back in a few days, but now I have to go get dressed from New Years Eve. 

Have a wonderful and safe New Years!

Until next time. . .

Setting an Intention for the New Year

Tags

,

Often at the beginning of yoga the teacher will talk to students about setting an intention for their practice. This is designed to help students focus their awareness and attention on a quality or virtue they want to cultivate on the mat. The thought is that by incorporating a specific quality or virtue into your practice, you will be able to carry it into your life off of the mat.

In the past, I would always select huge concepts like inner peace or patience as my intention. However, my awareness and attention during class was completely focused on either the inflexibility of my body and/or the difficulty of the pose. It isn’t a surprise that I rarely left class feeling any sense of inner peace or patience. During a recent class, I decided to set a basic intention of accepting my body for where it is. Whenever I had difficulty with a pose, I gently reminded myself that whatever I could do was enough. And as a result, not only did I leave class feeling more at peace, throughout the rest of the day I found myself being more gentle in my self-talk. That experience totally changed the way I experience yoga.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to set an intention, especially as we approach the New Year. The goals or resolutions that we set are determined by what we want to accomplish in the coming year. Lose weight. Find a job. Write a book. Publish book😉. But these ideas come from our thinking mind rather than a longing from our highest self*. An intention is birthed at the core of our heart where we find our deepest truth. It’s our most heartfelt desire and realizing it leads to a sense of fulfillment.

We all want to experience the satisfaction of living a fulfilled life. So we set goals and make resolutions in January to guide our steps. But often, like my quest of inner peace in yoga class, we come away frustrate because our attention and focus drifts. We get too busy to go to the gym. We too tired after work to write, so we watch television instead. It takes too much effort to count points or whatever the diet requires. And at the end of the year we become a bunch of cynics, who don’t make resolutions because they “never stick”.   

What if instead we set a small intention for the year that speaks to our heart? It’s harder to figure out exactly what that should be, because we have to quiet our brain and actually listen to our heart. The heart is soft-spoken and easily discouraged. So give it time. Do that thing today that it’s urging you to do.

Go for a walk.

Read a book.

Take a nap.

Do whatever you need to do to listen. I’m going to paint.

Until next time. . .

Read more about Setting an Intention:

*Why Do We Set Intentions in Yoga?

Sankalpa: Going Beyond Resolutions

The Power Behind Setting An Intention In Yoga

Trusting God

Tags

,

I’m struggling today to come up with a topic to write about. I thought I’d go back to procrastinating but that doesn’t really interest me. My thoughts are split between planning for the New Year and reflecting on this year.

It’s been a tough year. That goes without saying.

Experiencing all the painful “first” while still trying to live my life to the fullest has taught me a lot about myself. The most valuable lesson being that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. That strength comes from trusting the Lord and His Sovereignty. It hasn’t been easy to trust that God is good in the face of such a loss. I questioned why a lot. I also resented that He didn’t intervene so that things would have been different. But as I look back over the course of this year, I see all the times that He did intervene. His greatest gift to me has been the people He has placed in my life.

There’s the staff at Whole Foods whose hugs and kind words have helped me through several difficult afternoons. Then there’s the friends who not only remember the hard days like anniversaries and birthdays, but don’t hesitate to call or text to say I’m thinking about you just when I need it. And most miraculously are the random women I have met who have also lost children, especially the woman I met in the shoe department.

It had been a particularly difficult day. I went to the mall in hopes of maybe raising my spirits some. While looking at shoes, I noticed the tattoo on her arm because it was in the same spot as mine. I asked about it and she shared it was for her sweet daughter who had died three years ago in a horrible car accident. I pulled up my sleeve to show her my tattoo and told her about Matt. We hugged each other and cried. As she pulled away she remind me that God is with me. Those words were so powerful coming from someone who intimately understood my pain. We exchanged numbers and each went on our way. Meeting her was definitely Divine Intervention because I felt remarkably better after our interaction.

Those are only a few instances of how God has cared for me through my journey so far. Through it all I have learned that trusting God isn’t about an assurance that things well go our way. It’s about knowing that even in the worse storm of your life you can count on Him to take care of us. We can count on Him to provide what we need and strengthen us. And even when we are all alone He will still be there to comfort us. Knowing that has given me all I needed to stand strong this year.

As I think about the coming year, I feel more and more compelled to leverage my life in such a way that I can use my experience to encourage others. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like. I’m sure that it will be more clear in the coming days.

Until next time. . .

Writing and the Procrastinator – Part One

Tags

, ,

One of the biggest problems I have with writing is staying put in the chair.

Whenever I’m sitting in the chair to write, I want to run. Anything and everything is a void excuse to get up and do something else. And if I make myself stay there, then my back or my neck starts to ache. We won’t even get into the slight pain in my head. It makes me wonder if maybe I’m trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

I question whether of not I am really meant to write. I say I love writing, but it feels like pure torture while I’m doing it. Well, not all the time, but a lot of the time. Does that mean I should be writing? Or is the problem deeper? Or is it simple procrastination?

According to an article posted on Oregon State University’s Academic Success Center’s website that was adapted fromThe Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns, there are six reasons people procrastinate: skill deficit, lack of interest, lack of motivation, fear of failure, fear of success, or rebellion or resistance.

For years, I thought that writing was challenging because I didn’t know enough to do it well. My procrastination was a result of a skill deficit. I went back to school to learn how to write. Two rounds of Graduate school didn’t make writing easier. It taught me that writing well is a skill that takes requires more than just head knowledge. It has to be practiced over many hours with many, many drafts. However, if I’m honest, it’s the drafts that make me feel inadequate as writer. I struggle to get the words right. But that’s a problem most writers have. Anne Lamott even wrote a whole chapter in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life about “shitty first drafts” that cautions writers about expecting too much from themselves:

I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said that you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.)

Maybe the real issue is the belief that the words should flow easier from brain to page. There shouldn’t be the push and pull of discover and understanding as you write. You shouldn’t have to grapple over meaning. You should just be able to write what you thought you were going write. But it doesn’t always work that way. Writing is discovery. You start off thinking that you are writing about one thing and discover along the way that it’s really about something else entirely. The more you write the more you learn about yourself and your subject. And that takes time.

Some of the resistance to sitting in the chair could be the knowledge that it might take a while to get the work done. And in this instant gratification world with which we live, it’s hard to slow down and work at something. We just want it done.

Today is the perfect example. The plan was to whip this blog off in thirty minutes, then go get my nails done. That was almost two hours ago and I’ve only touched the surface of writing and the procrastinator.

I guess I will save it for tomorrow.  

Until next time. . .

Remebering His Birth Day

Tags

Today is my son’s birthday. He would have been twenty-seven years old. And for some reason I keep replaying the intricate details of his birth in my mind.

I spent the evening of the 26th watching Yentl on VHS with my husband and sister. We had to pause every three to five minutes for my contractions, which explains why I have very little recollection of the movie in general. Around midnight, I told my sister that I didn’t think I would be able to sleep if the contractions didn’t stop. Then my water broke. Things progressed pretty quickly after that because he was born a little after four in the morning.

I was totally amazed at the whole birthing process. I couldn’t believe that my body was capable of such a feat. I also couldn’t believe how much I was in love with my new baby. I wouldn’t let the nurses take him that night so I could sleep. I wanted him with me.

Twenty-seven years later I still just want him with me. 

Our goal today has been to celebrate his life by doing things he would have enjoyed. So far, we have gone to brunch and played mini-golf. We’ve shared memories and laughed a lot. But there has also been tears. I think there will always be tears. But all in all the type of day I think he would have enjoyed.  

Until next time . . .

Boxing Day Hike

Tags

, ,

Today is Boxing Day, a holiday celebrated in Great Britain and most countries that were settled by the English except the United States. Some historians believe it started back in the Middle Age when the servants who had to work on Christmas Day took the next day off. As the servants left to visit their families, their employers would present them with gift boxes. Another theory is that the boxes placed in church to collect coins for the poor were opened and distributed on the day after Christmas. The tradition expanded over the years to include those that rendered any type of service. Now it includes gift giving to tradesman, mail carriers, doormen, porters and others who serve.*

For me, the day after Christmas was another shopping day. We generally went out as a family to shop the after-Christmas sales and to purchase gifts for Matt’s birthday, which is on the 27th. Though Matt would tell you he always got cheated because his birthday was two days after Christmas, that just wasn’t true. I always treated his birthday as a completely different event, never purchasing anything until Christmas was over. So the Brown family tradition was always shopping on Boxing Day. It’s sort of interesting that in Great Britain, today is their Black Friday.

But traditions change as our circumstances change. I had no desire to shop today. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was even going to get dressed and leave the house. I spent most of the day on the sofa reading. I wanted to finish the last fifty pages of my book – The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A brilliant young man that left Newark for the Ivy League – so I could count it in my reading challenge on Goodreads. And even though I knew the outcome because it was clearly stated on the book cover, I felt myself slipping into melancholy as I read the last few pages. And once I was done, I felt the need to write about it but couldn’t find the words. 

Fortunately, my husband invited me to go on a hike. We ventured about a half hour away from our house to Kennesaw Mountain, the highest point in metro Atlanta. 

About five minutes into the hike I began to have second thoughts. It was muddy and wet. Once we passed that, the incline sent both of our hearts racing to the point where conversation was no longer an option. Several times along the way I questioned whether or not the view was even worth it. But we persevered and boy was it worth it. 

   
   

I so enjoyed spending the afternoon in nature. The rocky terrain and fresh air challenged my body and renewed my mind. My husband and I  left park in a fabulous mood.  

Throughout the last 15 months, I’ve been so amazed at how healing nature can be. Though the unseasonably warm weather made it feel like summer today, I hope hiking will become our new Boxing Day tradition. 

Until next time. . .

Merry Christmas 

Tags

It’s Christmas morning and I’m waiting for my kids to wake up. It’s crazy how things have changed. It used to be that my husband and I would have barely fallen asleep before they’d come barging into our room ready to open gifts. Now I’m the one who can’t wait to see what’s under the tree.  

So while I’m biding my time before waking them up, I thought I’d take a moment to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. 

May today your day be filled with joy and peace. 

Until next time . . . 

Christmas Eve Triggers

The last few days have been full of triggers.

First, there was the photo that popped up on Facebook. Even though I see the same picture several times a day when I look at my phone, it hurt to see it paired with a post that I had written in that moment two years ago. 

Then there was the gray jacket at T.J. Maxx that looked just like one I bought him for Christmas several years ago. As I gently brushed the fabric with my finger tips, I could almost see him standing in the kitchen wearing it. 

Last night, it was the silence that echoed through the house as the lights twinkled on the tree. Tears grew into full-fledge weeping. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to stop.

This morning at the grocery store, a friend from the cheese department gave me a hug and said Merry Christmas. Tears sprung up as I reached for the pecorino.

I would love to say that it’s easier this year, but it isn’t. I miss him terribly.

I contemplated not sharing my feelings on this blog, because I didn’t want to be a downer on Christmas Eve. But as I have said many times in the last month, if I’m going to be honest in my writing, I have to deal with my grief. 

There are gifts to wrap and few things left to prepare for dinner, and then there’s the candle light service at church. And though moving through these activities can feel like a struggle, there is also joy in the memories they trigger. That’s what I’m holding onto today.DSC_0268_1343

Merry Christmas!

My Imaginary Dinner Party

Today at lunch, a friend asked what three literary characters would I invite to a dinner party, and what would I serve.

I took me a while to answer the question. Mostly because I tend to think more about the authors of novels than the characters. So it would have been easier to come up with three authors.

Ernst Hemingway, of course, is first on the list. Though he isn’t my favorite author, I find myself drawn to his writing. Consequently, I read at least one of his novels every year. I would also invite Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar is definitely one of my favorite books. And while I was in grad school, I read a collection of her short stories, essays and diary excerpts that taught me a ton about how our personal diaries feed our work. The third person would be a toss-up between Jane Austen and Langston Hughes. I’m inclined to pick Langston Hughes. He is my all-time-favorite poet and a character in my novel. But I imagine Hemingway making the party into an old boy’s club discussion if there was another man there. Nonetheless, I pictured the four of us (either Jane or Langston) drinking wine and talking about writing. How cool would that be!

While I played this scenario over in my mind, my friend was still waiting for an answer. I thought about taking a cop-out by answering the question I liked better, but that’s kind of obnoxious.I didn’t want to be that guy. You know, the one who always has a “better” idea.

So I thought about all the books that I have read and tried to pick three characters who I would love to have a conversation with. At the top of that list is Jane Eyre, followed by Elizabeth Bennett and then Adah Price from the Poisonwood Bible. All of them were strong women whose strong beliefs echoed my own in some ways. I imagined the four of us discussing societal and religious constraints that have been placed on women.

Once I told my friend who I would invite, she wanted to know what we would be eating. I hadn’t thought about that. I was too busy imagining the particulars of the conversation. So much so that I thought it would make a great writing prompt for a short story, which I might be writing now if I didn’t have to cook dinner and wrap Christmas presents.

It’s interesting how many ideas I’ve had l since I started this challenge. Let’s hope that the momentum keeps up after this month is over.

I’m so glad my friend posed that hypothetical question over lunch. Not only was it a welcome relief from the tedium of Christmas shopping, but it has my brain spinning with ideas. I’d love to write a story about either one of those imaginary conversations.

I’m curious about who you would invite and what you would talk about. Post your answers in the comment section below.

Oh and by the way, I would serve pasta. It’s my go-to dish. In fact, it’s what I’m going to make right after I post this blog.

Until next time. . .

Twenty-two days and counting 

Tags

, ,

Day 22. 

I count the days much like I did when I quit smoking. Three days since my last cigarette. Ten days since my last cigarette. Twenty-two days since my last cigarette. 

Counting reminded me of how far I had come. It helped strengthen my willpower when I wanted to quit. Did really I want to start at day one again?

That’s the question I’m faced with as I face today’s blog. I’m tired of trying to figure out what to write. There is so much I need to do to get ready for Christmas Day. Not to mention the fact that I desperately need a day off. It’s like having unfinished homework hanging over your head everyday.

I gave up cigarettes for lent in 1994, and for forty days all I thought about was smoking. I kept telling myself all I had to do was make it to Easter Sunday. If I wanted one after that, then I could have one. Though the craving was intense at times, I perserved. By the time Easter came around, I no longer had a desire for cigarettes. Shortly after that, I stopped counting. 

But then my husband and I decided to spend a week with our families between Christmas and New Years. By New Year’s Eve my stress level was off the charts. Eight months of being smoke free no longer mattered. I wanted and had a cigarette. 

It tasted horrible and did nothing for my stress. I started my count again. 

Coming up with a new idea to write about everyday is challenging. It would be a lot easier to build on an existing idea. Your brain could focus on how to expand or develop what you already have. Ideas percolate overnight and pour easier on the page the next day. 

Thinking  about this concept makes me wonder why it’s been so hard to finish the revisions on my novel. Something to consider for a future blog. 

In the meantime, I’ve made through another day. The counting continues.