Tag Archives: self-care

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?

10 Ways to Follow Your Passion Without Quitting Your Day Job

This week, I went back to work full-time after a six-month sabbatical. It’s going to be tough re-adjusting to the work schedule while still making time to do the things outside of work that are important to me.

Writing fiction is the biggest of these for me. I have other hobbies, but writing is my passion.

So I’m making a plan. Here’s what I’m telling myself…

Vancouver Island road. Copyright Siri Paulson 2013.

1. Cut yourself some slack.

I’m going to be exhausted — especially at first, but there will continue to be exhausting days when one job is all I’m good for. That’s okay. My tendency to beat myself up is not the best way to get results, no matter what my Inner Critic thinks.

2. Set SMART goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. (Read more at Wikipedia.)

I want to highlight two of them and what they mean to me.

  • Attainable means realistic. See #1. My Inner Critic has entirely unrealistic expectations about what I “should” be able to achieve. But she’s not the one in charge — I am. It’s okay to start small and ramp up slowly.
  • Relevant means identifying what’s important. Networking and marketing — Twitter, Facebook, even blogging — are all good, but they’re only supporting what’s really important: the writing.

3. Build habits.

Way back, before last year happened with its home-buying and trip-planning and other good stuff, I had a habit. 9 PM to 11 PM were my writing hours. Even if I didn’t write for the full two hours, I usually wrote sometime during that period. I want to get back to that.

I also had a coffee-shop-writing habit. It’s taken several different forms over the years — sometimes Friday nights, sometimes lunch hours. The more, the better.

4. Know your rhythms.

I’ve already mentioned my 9-to-11 evening writing times. I’m a bit of a night owl, but I know exactly when my brain cuts out.

As well, I’ve been experimenting with timed writing and editing — everything from 10-minute sprints to half-hour Twitter challenges (look for #wordmongering and #editmongering) to 3-hour writing marathons (incidentally, that’s about the length a laptop battery lasts at a coffee shop).

I’m still working on identifying the optimal length of a writing session for me. Right now I’m leaning towards 90 minutes.

5. Know your weaknesses.

The Internet is mine. So I’ve been trying out Freedom, a software program that locks you out of your Internet for whatever length of time you specify. It’s great…at least when I remember to turn it on! Amazingly, when I know I can’t just check that one site, the craving completely disappears.

I also avoid getting online at coffee shops, because I know what will happen. So I compartmentalize and pretend there’s no wifi anywhere except at home. Surprisingly, it works. The brain is susceptible to being tricked…and I’m not above doing so.

6. Find the time.

We all have busy lives. But there are plenty of corners in mine that aren’t being used for anything in particular. I’ve already mentioned writing while on lunch hour. (Though I won’t do it every lunch hour, because my body needs some time off, too!)

When I do NaNoWriMo, I spend my public transit time scribbling notes and outlines in a notebook so I don’t have to spend precious keyboard time thinking.

7. Remember that baby steps add up.

As I mentioned earlier, my Inner Critic thinks anything less than a superhuman effort is doomed to failure.

However, my Inner Critic chooses not to remember that I’ve already written several novels…some during the mass marathon that is NaNoWriMo, others during perfectly ordinary months. I’ve written, edited, and published more than a few short stories. I’m the editor and co-founder of Turtleduck Press. And so on.

All while, amazingly enough, not being superhuman.

I have a feeling that, to really get my writing career going, I’ll need more than baby steps…but then again, my Inner Critic has been wrong before.

8. Just keep swimming.

Yes, that’s a Finding Nemo quote.

What does it mean here? Keep moving forward. Keep doing something, even if it’s small (see #7). Do it again the next day. If I don’t have the brain to write one day, maybe I have the brain to do something related (though see #2 — anything except writing is ancillary).

9. Find a community.

I always wanted to Be A Writer, but I didn’t really buckle down until I discovered NaNoWriMo in 2005. The hard deadline helped immensely, but that was only part of the reason. The other part was the people. I met writers that year who are still friends today.

Since then, I’ve met a lot more writers. I have a group born out of that year at NaNoWriMo, a real-life critique group, a close-knit group on Facebook, and a variety of loose-knit groups on Twitter. All of them help keep me accountable and help me nurture my passion in various ways.

10. Listen to Joss Whedon.

Wait, what? Yes, that’s what I said. Go read this. I’ll wait.

Your turn! What are your best tips for following your passion while also meeting the demands of Real Life?