The field and the cave

robinson crusoe quote

“This? This has been here all this time?” That is what I was thinking when Eric and I visited the National Arboretum in DC on Memorial Day. I have lived here for nearly five years, and Eric his entire life, and we had never seen this beautiful place.

In the words of Robinson Crusoe, “it put me upon reflecting” that there are so many, many things in this world that have “been here this whole time”, and how wonderful it is that they must still be discovered.

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And how wonderful a field can be when you work in a cave and live in an apartment.

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And how unfortunate it is that I allow my cave-office to assist in my murmurings and complainings.

It takes a site like these superfluous Capitol building columns standing in an open field holding up the sky, the wind weaving through each one and filling my lungs with air that makes me wonder if I might not indeed be set airborne–a site like this that offers a stark comparison to my every day life and reminds me that I should be grateful that such a juxtaposition exists. For if not for the cave, there would be no field.

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And it is easier going back to the cave when you have seen the field, and know that it exists.

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My Writing Process

 

So, Amanda of The Lady Okie has asked me to participate in a blog chain of writing questions (click the link to read her responses!). You may have noticed that I enjoy talking about writing around here, so I took her up on it! These questions are working there way through the blogoshpere, one blog at a time. Will you be next? You can be. I welcome all of you to write about your writing process by answering these questions. And if you do, be sure to let me know about it so I can read it! I can’t really get enough of writers talking about writing.

 
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writing questionThis blog, mostly, as well as a novel. In between those two things, I enjoy writing short stories and the occasional poem. Above all those things, I am working on not letting my perfectionist tendencies stunt my productivity.

writing question 2Well, first I’d need to figure out what genre my blog falls into. I guess broadly, “lifestyle”. However, I don’t write about my life so much, as my inner life. Haha. So perhaps, an “inner-lifestyle blog”? And if that is the case, I just coined that term, so my blog stands out quite a bit in that genre.

writing question 3In the words of Flannery O’Connor: “I write to discover what I know”. That sums it up best for me. I write mostly about thoughts that won’t leave me alone, and I try to find the truth in them. Writing is processing your thoughts, and many of my thoughts are buried deep. Writing so frequently helps me hash out vague ideas until they become sharp and concise. Sometimes, a particular thought can take years to say the correct way. But when it happens, it is a satisfying feeling.

writing question 4In a nutshell, it looks like anxiety personified: I sit down and bang my head on the table (figuratively) a few times until I decide instagram has to be checked before any real work can get done. Then I give myself a pep talk about why I should be writing. Then I write a couple of sentences and am convinced I will never write anything good ever again. I think about all the great writers who would laugh at my attempts. Then I calm down long enough to write one sentence that hooks me. It makes me think of something else to write about, and I stick with it for a little while longer. Then, I decide I love writing more than anything in the world and never want to do anything else.

But this is the fancier answer:

Everything I write goes through approximately 4 million drafts. When I sit down to write a blog post, I write like a fiend so as not to lose any of my ideas. When I think I have everything out, I start to edit. Depending on how drained my brain is at that point, I will give it a quick run-through and cut out what sounds bad or repetitive. I do that a few times. I cut a lot. If it does not offer something to the greater good of the topic, it goes. It kind of becomes a logic puzzle, which is fun and addicting (more on Sudoku to come…)!

I rarely ever write a blog post in one sitting that is ready to publish. It happens sometimes, but most of my posts sit in my drafts for a few days until I feel that I have gotten them down to as few words as possible. When I can’t cut anything else out, or add anything else in, then it is ready to go.

The great majority of my fiction writing is short stories. I write short stories in a similar way to blog posts. For the novel I am working on, well, the process is a lot different and I still have not quite figured it out. Writing something as lengthy as a novel means I cannot use my go-to writing process. Solving problems on a smaller scale (with blog posts and short stories), means the way you write is going to be manageable and tidy. Novel-writing takes a different part of the brain–a part that is not as natural for me. It requires stepping back and looking at the big picture, NOT editing every time you sit down to work on it, and accepting that you won’t be able to keep track of it all at all times. It’s a real challenge for the perfectionist in me, but it is rewarding, and a great experiment in stretching myself.

If you saw my first drafts, you’d wonder how in the world they ever turned into anything worth reading. Truly.

And that’s it! If you don’t want to write an entire post answering these questions, tell me about your writing process in the comments below. I would love to know!

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P.S. Some of the best writing advice you can get.

Two words that keep me creatively sane

 

Do you ever get overwhelmed by your own enthusiasm? One day, I am the most excited person in the world, ready to conquer my writing dreams and make things happen. I am convinced that these feelings are my default setting. So you can imagine my surprise when the next day, or a few hours later, my only desire in the world is to get my pajamas on and watch Portlandia for hours on end. Me, like to write? Nah. You’ve got the wrong girl.

Mainly, my internal dialogue becomes a viscous monologue against my current state of apathy. “And you thought you thought you were a hard worker. You thought you would actually work toward your goals. And now look at you basking on the couch without a care in the world for writing or being creative in any way.”

Do you do that to yourself? There is a fine line between knowing when to make yourself work harder, and when to take a break. Perhaps not every break I take is justified, but there is something I tell myself to keep these negative thoughts at bay.

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Whenever I come down from one of my mental highs, and am utterly convinced that I will never, ever be passionate about my goals again, I give myself a mental break.

I say to myself, “Okay, you are right. You are not a writer. You are not creative. Your dreams are all a farce. You are delusional and everybody else is better at doing things than you. But just for right now.”

 I agree with my pitiful thoughts, and I accept myself for not being a creative or motivated person, with a disclaimer: “you are not a writer right now.” or, “you are not a motivated person right now.”

 It’s the “right now” that takes the edge off. It allows me to stop beating myself up–because a non-creative state that is fleeting is something I can deal with. Instead of feeling like I am avoiding things I should be doing, it teaches my mind to relax and cut myself some slack. I am not ruining my dreams by watching an episode of Mad Men instead of working on my blog. Instead, I am just not a creative person right now.

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You see, I used to argue with myself when I felt unmotivated and discouraged. I used to say to myself, “you ARE a writer! Don’t listen to these negative thoughts!” But the thing about self-pity is that it usually isn’t affected much by Pollyanna. I have finally come to realize that these mental highs and lows are a cycle of thought, and I will always, always, regain my mental high. And then go back to the low. But denying the low points only makes me feel more sorry for myself. Trying to talk my way out of self-pity is, to me, just one more reminder that I am failing at something. So instead, I accept my current state of emotions. I don’t beat myself up for them.

The strange thing about accepting the lows along with the highs, is that the high usually returns a lot faster than I expect it to. I don’t know why I don’t always feel motivated. I have a finite mind and some things, like the workings of my fluctuating inner dialogue, will always remain mysterious to me. But once I acknowledge them as mysteries, acceptance becomes a lot easier.

Do you relate to this? Do you beat yourself up? Do you have highs and lows, creatively? Are you easier on others than you are yourself?

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P.S. How to kill creativity and The Problem with perfectionism

Crazy Busy: a book for everyone

I recently read Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung for a book club. Have you heard of it? Before I started reading it, I didn’t really consider myself to be a busy person. I have my job, our church, family, friends, and my personal hobbies (basically, this blog). I don’t have kids yet, I don’t fill my evenings with social events, and I’d be just as content staying in on a Friday night as looking for something to do. But since I read this book, I am reevaluating. I think I am busier than I am willing to admit.

crazy busy

DeYoung is a pastor and a self-proffessed busy person. He writes not as a preacher, but as a fellow Christian struggling to find balance between what needs to be done, and what does not need to be done. DeYoung doesn’t criticize the world, or the people in it, for being busy. He doesn’t blame technology or our desire to be with others. His solution is not to take away all the factors in our lives that make us busy. Because things and people and outside influences are never the problem. We are. And that is what DeYoung deals with, in a friendly, honest, and encouraging way.

Maybe you do not suffer from an overly-packed calendar, like I do. But maybe you suffer from guilt after watching a documentary on sex-trafficking because you wonder if you should be doing more. Maybe you worry about your kids too much, and if you are doing enough for them (his section on child-raising is fantastic!). Maybe you are finding it more difficult to focus on your pastor’s sermons because your brain is growing accustomed to short bursts of information due to an ever-growing immersion in social media.

I liked a few things about this book:

  • It’s short. As the tagline of this book states, this is a mercifully short book at 118 pages. A busy person could read it in a couple of days.
  • DeYoung talks about the role of necessity and proximity in establishing what we should be doing (page 51). The Terror of Obligation is a great chapter in which he states, “Not giving a rip about sex slaves is not an option for the Christian. Not doing something directly to combat this particular evil is an option.” He isn’t saying you shouldn’t do something about sex slaves, but rather, start where you already are. I often suffer from guilt for not doing everything in the world. This chapter, especially, was humbling and helpful for me.
  • He doesn’t offer a neat and tidy solution. His “solutions” are most likely things you already know (and he doesn’t call them solutions–in fact, he shies away from that label). The helpful part is that he brings busyness to the surface in all of its forms, and forces the reader to be aware of them. And I think awareness is crucial.

This is a book I plan to keep nearby and read portions of when I start to feel overwhelmed with life; not necessarily the busy part, but the part that messes with my sanity and makes me wonder what my priorities really are. I gave it four stars on goodreads.com!

Do you consider yourself to be afflicted with busyness? Do you feel overwhelmed with obligations? Does saying “no” scare you? Will you read this book?

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P.S. I updated my Blogging Resources page under “links to love” in the menu above. I plan on adding more to it, and would love to hear suggestions from you!