Tag Archives: self-care

Late Winter Blues

Right about this time of year, I always start to feel really ground down by winter. Christmas holidays are a distant memory, the February long weekend (Family Day in most of Canada) is over, and the Easter long weekend isn’t for another month or two. Post-holiday optimism and resolve have been dulled by the pressures of reality. The cold grey weather seems like it’ll never end, and I’m more than ready for some warmth and sunshine.

And yes, I’m taking Vitamin D and I’ve tried full-spectrum lights in the past. Last year I even contrived to run away to a hot climate for three months, but that’s not an option this year.

(Funny thing is, when I was younger I thought snowbirds — in Canuck-speak, that’s retirees who head south for the winter — were wimps. Now I totally get the appeal! Alas, I’m a looong way from being able to do that regularly, even if I did swing it once.)

Here’s something I wrote almost exactly two years ago: Surviving the End of Winter. Unfortunately, those strategies aren’t working so well this time. (Even the copious amounts of chocolate.) Mental health is a moving target, I swear.

So I’m turning the platform over to you. How do you cope with the late-winter blues?

#ROW80 Update

Despite the above, I’ve already hit 2.25 hours of novel revision this week — thanks in part to the aforementioned long weekend, and in part to having to prep pages for my critique group. Only another 1.25 hours to go! Jury’s still out on whether I’m actually making progress or stalled, though. Maybe the rest of the week will see things start to move along.

 

Cruel Self-Talk and ROW80 Check-In

Just a quick post today, because I’m going to send you over to a post I wrote yesterday at Turtleduck Press. It’s about New Year’s resolutions, changing goals, and how we talk to ourselves.

Here’s a snippet:

I’m doing a writing challenge that involves twice-weekly check-ins on my blog. If you read those posts, you might notice a lot of what sound like rationalizations or excuses. I’m busy with Real Life. I’m not writing a lot but it’s quality over quantity. Renovations also relate to my goal of “making space”.

But all of that is deliberate.

You see, I tend to be very hard on myself. There’s a little voice in my head that says I’m not working hard enough, I should be doing more, that story I’m working on sucks, look at how much those people on Twitter are writing, I only work 40 hours a week so there’s no reason I can’t write 10 hours a week, what the hell am I doing on the Internet, etc., etc. (And that’s just the parts that relate to writing.)

To be honest, I’ve struggled for a long time with this voice. It seeps into all aspects of life. It can find so many ways to say “You suck. You’re not good enough — you’re not like those other people — and you never will be.” And that’s not motivating; it’s paralyzing.

Even now as I type, I don’t want to write too much about it because I’m afraid to give it free rein, to let it gain a toehold in my mind.

Check out the rest of my post to find out how I’m fighting back. And please do leave a comment — I’d love to hear how you fight back, too.

ROW80 stats: only half an hour so far this week, as renovations are still eating my life. But I have high hopes for getting more words down on Thursday night and Saturday.

 

Making Space for Writing: ROW80 Goals

Last year, I was very busy with Life — not in a bad way, but it meant I didn’t do a whole lot of writing. This year, Life has settled down (knock wood). So I’m taking a step back, refocusing and recommitting to what it is I really want to do with myself. Which is write.

Specifically, I want to make more space for my writing. I hear myself constantly complaining about how busy I am. My house is cluttered so there’s no room to think. The Internet is an ever-present demon. And the writing I am getting done feels like it has stagnated because I’m not sinking into it as deeply as I could be.

So I am declaring this the Year of Priorities, AKA Project: Making Space.

It’s a multi-pronged problem, so I’ll be making a multi-pronged attack.

ROW80

First step: ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days). This is a writing challenge where, unlike NaNoWriMo, each participant declares his or her own goal. It runs for 80 days, then takes a break and starts again. That means it’s not a mad coffee-fueled dash like NaNo. As I understand it, you’re supposed to take ROW80 a little slower, integrate your goal into your normal life, and work towards building habits.

My ROW80 goal: To spend 5 hours a week writing and/or editing.

(A week is counted as Monday to Sunday. Related tasks such as researching, brainstorming, and outlining may or may not count, or I may count them as half time, or something.)

I’m tempted to talk about gradually raising the goal, or about how much I hope to accomplish by the end of the 80 days, but I won’t. I have a long history of setting unrealistic goals, or “product” goals that don’t take into account the length of the process, and then beating myself up when I miss them. So this time I’m starting simple.

My current projects are:

  • Writing, editing, and posting a serial story for Turtleduck Press (I’m just finishing up Part 4 of a planned 5)
  • Editing a novel (I’m about 1/3 of the way through an intensively edited second draft)

But again, I’m only setting “process” goals for now.

I will say, though, that I intend to do those 5 hours a week in bigger chunks. In the past I’ve sometimes written in sprints of 10 or 15 minutes, which is great as far as it goes, but it’s not conducive to sinking deeper into the story. So I’m going to aim for an hour at a time, but again, that’s not an official part of the goal.

One of the Life things I’m doing is working on Turtleduck Press. As a member, part of my duties involves writing short stories, which will count towards my goal. Another part of my duties is editing other members’ novels, which will not count — I like doing it, but it doesn’t get my own writing out there any faster. Writing blog posts also will not count — only fiction.

Wednesday Check-In

I’ve done 2 hours so far this week — an hour each of writing and editing. It might have been more, but I had to skip Monday because of wrist problems. Still, I’m on track to hit 5 hours.

Other #ROW80 Members

I’m doing #ROW80 with a couple of fellow Turtleduck Press authors:

Erin Kendall

Kit Campbell

You can see the rest of the ROW80 participants here.

Go show them some love!

In future posts I’ll be talking more about my 2013 (because I did accomplish a fair bit, even if it wasn’t writing, and I’d like to celebrate that) and my plans and reasons for refocusing in 2014. In the meantime…

Your turn! Are you feeling too busy? What are your priorities for 2014?

7 Tips for Mental Health and Lower Stress During the Holidays

Christmas treeThe holidays can be a tough time for many of us. Whether it’s the pressure to be perfect, the tension of navigating family relationships, the weight of memories, or the sheer length of the to-do list, there are many reasons to feel like Scrooge or the Grinch at this time of year.

Here, then, are some tips for retaining your mental health.

7. Don’t try to do everything. Pick your projects and your battles. I don’t bake or send cards, but I do decorate my home and put lots of thought into my gifts. If you’re trying to make Christmas amazing for a small person in your life, for example, pick and choose the things to focus on — the ones they’ll remember. Years later, they won’t remember how many kinds of cookies you made, but they’ll remember a tradition of making gingerbread together. If you’re a writer, maybe December is the time to scale waaaaay back on your goals or writing schedule — the words will still be there in January.

6. Resist the pressure, both internal and external. You’re inundated with messages about using your dollars to make your loved ones happy. You want to find the best gift ever this year. Maybe your in-laws and your step-family both want you with them for Christmas dinner. Resist. You can do this.

5. Do focus on what you love about the season. This is where family traditions can come in handy. A particular holiday music album that you always put on? A visit to Santa? Decorating the tree together? Curling up on the sofa to watch holiday movies? None of those things are expensive or time-consuming or stressful — they’re just fun, or if they’re not, they should be. Linger on them, and enjoy.

4. Make time for you. If you’re an introvert, for example, you’ll still need me-time — that won’t change just because it’s the holidays. Stick to your exercise routine if you can, or your weekly ritual of going out for coffee on Sundays, or whatever else you ordinarily do that you love.

3. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Your tree might not look like it came out of a magazine (unless doing it that way causes you more happiness than stress), but it looks like you trimmed it your way. Your cookie-decorating skills might be lacking, but if they taste good, who cares? I promise your family and friends won’t notice, or if they do, they won’t care.

2. Plan something to look forward to in the new year. One reason the holidays get so much pressure is that after they’re over, there’s a long, dark slog until spring (at least in this part of the world). My significant other and I have started a tradition of a weekend getaway for mid-February, and let me tell you, it makes January go much faster. If a trip isn’t in the cards for you, try a concert, a party, or any special event that you can get excited about.

1. Do what you need to do. Above all, your mental health is the top priority. If that means skipping things, letting other things slide, staying home sometimes…well, so be it, and don’t let anyone (including your own Inner Critic) tell you otherwise. You’re worth taking care of.

Your turn! What are your best tips for staying sane during the holidays?

NaNoWriMo Manifesto

Last week I talked about how I’m modifying NaNoWriMo and participating as a NaNo Rebel. I’m aiming for 50 hours of editing instead of 50,000 words. Because my goal is so different, I’m not signing up on the forums, and I’m not sure how much I’ll be hanging around other NaNoers (online or in real life).

But.

NaNo has always been my month to recommit to writing, and even if I’m a rebel this year, I’m not going to let that get away from me.

The Rest of the Year

In months other than November…

…I busy myself with things that feel productive (blogging, working on Turtleduck Press stuff, networking), might be more gratifying in the short term, and are in fact important parts of a writing career — but aren’t the core of what I need to be doing.

…I write short fiction, which is fine and allows me to sharpen my writing skills — but it’s not where my heart is.

…I allow myself to be distracted by the Internet (understatement of the century).

A Reminder

At the end of my life, am I going to wish I watched more cat videos? Sure, the Internet has given me good friends, good stories, things that induce joy and laughter, as well as brain candy (and I’ve gotta tell you, sometimes the brain just needs candy).

But it’s not why I’m here. It’s not my calling. It’s not what makes me feel like my deepest self.

Manifesto

In November…

…I will recommit to my art.

…I will edit with joy.

…I will dig deeper and enrich my writing.

…I will live and breathe my novel.

…I will not permit silly excuses, or procrastination, or fear, to get in the way of my dreams.

…I will reward myself as necessary until the reward becomes no longer necessary.

…I will do what I must to meet this goal.

And I will take the habits and lessons learned, and I will practice them going forward (though scaled back to allow for other parts of life). Because NaNo is just one month, but my dream of writing is for always.

Your turn! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, what are your goals for the month (besides 50,000 words, obviously)? Even if you’re not participating or are not a writer, how can you recommit to your dreams?

 

7 Things Gardening Has Taught Me

I’m a beginning gardener, just finishing up my first year — a small backyard garden, mostly vegetables, with a few flowers. I’ve learned a lot, both about gardening and about life. Here are 7 lessons from Year 1…

Rose close-up

1. Adapt your plans to your lifestyle and needs.

I know my garden isn’t going to be tended for hours each day, so I’m keeping it small, and I’m on a mission to discover which vegetables grow best under my erratic care. Zucchini is robust? Great! Celery needs nursing? Too bad, it’s not going in my garden. If you’re in a small space or have poor soil, look into container gardening — it’s pretty amazing what you can grow in pots these days. Make gardening work for you, and it’ll be a lot more fun.

Life lesson: Whether you’re trying to make time for a hobby you’re passionate about or to fit exercise into a busy schedule, it’s easier if you can work your new activity around the lifestyle needs you already have.

2. Keep up, don’t catch up.

You can pull out every last weed, stand back, and admire a job well done. But a week later, they’ll be sprouting up all over the place again. (It helps if you can get the whole root, which is hard with weeds that have long taproots). Discouraging? Yes. But it’s easier to keep up now than catch up later — trust me.

Life lesson: Some tasks come back again and again — laundry and other chores come to mind. It’s easier to stay on top of them if you’re not always playing catch-up.

3. But…it doesn’t have to be perfect.

See the green thing on the right? That's a weed. Should it be there? No. But is it the first thing you notice? Probably not.

See the green thing on the right? That’s a weed. Should it be there? No. But is it the first thing you notice? Probably not.

My garden had weeds in it. I watered erratically, so a lot of my carrots are stubby. But even so, I got a good haul of carrots, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, and various herbs — all local, organic, and delicious. And the roses and tiger lilies put on a glorious show. That’s good enough for me!

Life lesson: Who cares if my garden (or house, or personal style…) doesn’t look like it belongs on Pinterest or in a magazine, as long as it makes me happy and gets the results I want?

4. Experiment, learn, and do better.

I didn’t get good results from bell peppers, cantaloupe, spinach, or sweet peas (flowers) this year. So next year I’ll plant more of what did work (see above) and try out a couple of new things. I’ll also try to be at least a little more consistent with watering, and more proactive with weeding.Life lesson: Try things, make mistakes, and learn from them. Experiments and mistakes are okay. It’s how kids learn — why not you, too?

5. It’s weirdly exciting to watch things grow.

Baby cantaloupe!

Baby cantaloupe!

You plant something. You water and weed it occasionally. Maybe you fertilize it. And with just that and sunshine, you get a whole new living thing. If you’re growing vegetables, you get to see what baby cantaloupe look like, or watch the whole growth cycle of zucchini. If you’re growing flowers, there’s the cycle of bud to blossom. Every week there’s something new to see. It’s pretty cool.

Life lesson: Nature is both engrossing and relaxing. If you don’t have a garden of your own, try looking at the plants you pass on a regular basis and watch how they change — it’ll give you a minute or ten of being present, unplugged, and connected to the world around you.

6. Plants are slow…and that’s a good thing.

You can’t sit there and watch them grow. You might not see a change in 24 hours (unless it’s kudzu…). If you’re growing a perennial, you won’t see real results (whether fruit or flowers) in the first year — and that’s without even mentioning trees! So gardening is an exercise in patience. In a world that’s increasingly fast-paced, watching plants is a great antidote.

Life lesson: Sometimes good things build slowly. In the hectic pace of modern life, from social media to television, it’s good to step out of the flow and move at a different speed for a while.

7. Gardening is hard work…but it’s worth it.

Carrots 2

Gardening is a lot of work, especially when you’re just starting out and don’t know what you’re doing. It’s not for everyone. But it’s good exercise, and doing something with one’s hands — something tactile and tangible — is a welcome change for a lot of us. The process is rewarding (see above!). And all your hard work gets you delicious food and/or beautiful flowers.

Life lesson: Hard work reaps rewards. Maybe not instantly (see above), but then the payoff is richer when it finally comes.

 

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy my other posts on gardening (at Turtleduck Press):

Vegetable Gardening? Ooh, Shiny!

Vegetable Gardening, The Sequel: An “Ooh, Shiny!” Update

Vegetable Gardening: The Tasty, Tasty Conclusion

 

Your turn! What has gardening taught you?

Nuit Blanche and the Artist Date

This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about an all-night arts festival I attended on the weekend. Here’s a tidbit:

Two years ago in this space I wrote about attending Nuit Blanche, a one-night-only arts festival that runs from dusk until dawn. If you think this sounds magical, it is…or at least it was.

Picture an urban downtown transformed, sculptures in alleys, multimedia installations projecting onto buildings, performance art on the street, location-specific works of art making the most of the spaces that, for one night only, they are allowed to take over.

Wandering around with friends at night, finding art in the most unlikely places, I felt like I was getting away with something, like I was discovering a secret part of the city, like I was sharing a private experience with the other attendees.

Click through to read the rest at the Turtleduck Press blog.

My experience this year was mixed (as you’ll see from the full post), but it did remind me of something I used to do. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about an “artist date” — going out and doing something that feeds your artistic soul. Fellow writer Ellen Gregory calls it feeding the muse.

I went through the Artist’s Way 12-week program (following the book) a few years ago, and while most of it didn’t stick, I loved the idea of an artist date. And I haven’t been doing it much lately. Note to self: more artist dates!

Your turn! Have you ever had a magical experience in a mundane place? What feeds your soul?

The Epic Battle of Sugar Cravings vs. Vegetable Smoothies

This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about vegetables:

My household has had a steady (but not overwhelming) supply of zucchini for the last month. Zucchini grow fast, did you know? We picked the first one a month earlier than we were expecting after last year’s tomato crop. And we could have picked it even earlier, only we didn’t notice it. They’re good at hiding. By the time we realized we had one, it was thicker than a baseball bat. Whoops!

Partly as a result of our vegetable garden, my household has been drinking a lot of smoothies lately, full of varying and tasty combinations of greens, celery, apples, ginger, and fruit. I haven’t noticed any Popeye tendencies yet, though. I admit I was hoping for a magic food that would give me 100% more energy, 150% better digestion, 98% fewer mood swings…and, I can’t deny, 33% less tummy pudge. But maybe green smoothies can only do so much against a desk-bound lifestyle.

I go through phases. I find that when my mood is lower, I crave sugar; but conversely, drinking (or eating) less sugar doesn’t seem to have an effect on my mood. Sometimes I drink more lattes, sometimes more soda pop, sometimes hot chocolate. When I wasn’t working, I drank sweet chai (Indian-style tea) because someone in my family makes a fantastic chai. For a while I bought red wine regularly and tried to become a connoisseur; now I’ve given up and only have alcohol at restaurants.

These days most of my fancy drink needs, and some of my dessert needs, are being met by smoothies. I drink regular coffee and the occasional cappuccino or pop, and that’s pretty much it.

But winter is coming (I’m a Stark at heart) and I know what happens then. I get cold and want warm, sweet drinks. And my NaNoWriMo drink of choice is mildly caffeinated root beer. We won’t even get into NaNo snacks.

So…

Your turn! How do you combat cravings and stay healthy? How much does varying your diet affect your mood?

Confessions of a Wannabe Writer

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’ve been putting out inspirational posts like 10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job and After the Vacation: A Conversation with the Inner Critic.

But the truth is, my baby writing career is stalled like you wouldn’t believe.

I get home from work and the last thing I want to do is write or edit…even though I’ve been dreaming all day about how productive I’ll be when I get home. So I chat with my family, putter around on the Internet, and maybe squeeze out half an hour some nights, an hour if I’m lucky. Too many nights I get nothing done at all. I’m not a morning person, so I don’t write before work, and lunch hours disappear awfully fast.

My priorities are all wrong. I spend more time blogging and working on Turtleduck Press stuff than I do writing or editing my own stories. More time reading blogs than reading novels. I think Chuck Wendig has something to say about that. (See what I mean about reading blogs?)

Now, it’s true that I’ve had a busy and distracting couple of years. I bought my first house, went through another major life event that was all-consuming for months, and planned and executed a massive trip.

But all those things are finished and I’ve been back at work for a month and a half now, long enough to have gotten over the hump and back into the groove. Except…I struggled with these same problems before all the distracting stuff happened. It’s no surprise that they’re back.

I’m tired of not writing. Of taking weeks to edit a chapter because I’m only devoting a handful of hours a week to the thing I want to do most in all the world. (Don’t I?) Of still not having even one edited, polished novel ready to go out on submission, or out on Amazon, or out into the world somehow.

I feel like a poser. A master of self-sabotage. A wannabe doomed to failure because I don’t want my dream enough to work for it.

I don’t have any answers.

Help.

Your turn! Am I the only one who feels this way?

 

After the Vacation: A Conversation with the Inner Critic

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1Quick announcement: This week I’m over at Turtleduck Press talking about our new anthology and how far we’ve come in the three (!) years since we started.

This is my fifth week back at work after taking a six-month sabbatical. The feeling of my time off is fading quickly in my memory, and in its place is the Inner Critic. You know, the voice that goes “I had all that time off work! Why didn’t I write three novels AND decorate the entire house and garden AND run all those errands I keep putting off?”

(I’m reasonably good at shutting up the Inner Critic’s comments on my actual writing ability, thanks to NaNoWriMo. Most of the time, anyway. But that’s a post for another time.)

There are two sides to this problem. (1) My Inner Critic is really good at telling me how I “should” be doing more than I am, while ignoring the actual amount of time and energy at my disposal. (2) I am, in fact, really good at spending a lot of time at home doing nothing (but less time than my Inner Critic thinks).

So here are some of the things I did, in fact, do during my time off:

1. Spent almost 4 months travelling.

Roadtrip! The Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

Roadtrip! Coming up on the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta.

I spent 12 weeks in Asia and 3 weeks in Western Canada. During that time I wasn’t writing, except for irregular blog posts, because I was, y’know, busy. I did initially have dreams of travelling and writing lots of fiction at the same time but…well, see above comments about the Inner Critic. Not going to happen.

The Asia trip was planned long in advance, but the Western Canada trip was relatively last-minute; a family member was hitting a life milestone and I realized that hey, I wasn’t working, I could actually make it out to celebrate with her. Bonus: spending more time with my family than I’ve spent since I moved to Toronto in 2005. Am I going to beat myself up for that? No!

2. Edited novels.

Besides the travelling, my main goal for those six months was to further my writing career. No, I didn’t edit a whole novel like I was hoping (before I knew I’d be spending three weeks out west). But I did start a major content edit of one of my novels, got several chapters in, and didn’t run away screaming, which is more than I’ve ever managed before.

(If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t published any novels yet, through Turtleduck Press or otherwise, this is why. I have a ways to go yet before I’m ready for major publication! Short stories, though…you can see the ever-growing list over here.)

I also copy edited someone else’s novel in my capacity as editor for Turtleduck Press, wrote two parts of a serial short story for the Turtleduck Press website, and branched out into travel blogging. That’s not nothing.

3. Started a garden.

Baby tomatoes in our garden

Baby tomatoes in our garden

My significant other and I really wanted to grow vegetables in our new backyard. But we had only the vaguest idea of how to do it. We’re still very much beginners, but going from (figurative) preschool to Grade 1 took a lot of research and a lot of (literal) digging. (More about this in a future post!)

I took the lead since I wasn’t working and he was. We put some things in the ground, then I went out west for three weeks, and when I came back I had more planting to do and three weeks’ worth of weeds to get under control, all without knowing what I was doing (so everything took longer). That’s not trivial!

Of course, this project meant that my time, attention, and energy were divided. So even when I wasn’t travelling to far-flung locations, I wasn’t purely focused on art. But it made my physical world better and gave me some exercise to boot.

4. Relaxed.

Remember when you were in school and you had two months off every summer? And four months off during university (during which you were probably working, but at least that’s something different than studying, so it gives your brain a break)? I really, really miss that. I’ve been out of university for over a decade and I still miss it.

I’m thinking this is probably related to my being an introvert and someone who is easily over-stimulated (sometimes called a Highly Sensitive Person). I need a lot of down-time and peace and quiet. This year, I finally got it.

And hey, while I was  relaxing, I didn’t just stare into space. I read a lot (partly to make up for not reading much while I was on the road, but I came out ahead). I knitted. I bought garden implements. I tried to sort the many, many photos I took while travelling and write down some of the experiences I had. I got enough sleep for a change. And so on.

So STFU, Inner Critic. I needed that time, and I made good use of it.

And even now that I’m back at work full-time, my life as a writer isn’t over.

 

Your turn! Do you have an Inner Critic? How do you shut it up?