The Significance of Decision-making

Thursday, June 26, 2014 0

Here’s something writing has taught me about life: scrolling mindlessly through my phone before bed is worse for me than reading a book I enjoy before bed.

When I am scrolling mindlessly through my phone before bed, it is easy to convince myself that I am relaxing and it’s fine that I am not reading (which I enjoy immensely more).

And here is how that relates to writing:

If I did not have this blog to record my writing from three years ago, I might think my writing style has, for the most part, remained stagnant. I might think that writing almost every day didn’t do that much to improve my writing. I might think that discipline is just something you do to torture challenge yourself–that it doesn’t yield results.

What I mean is that the small steps we take every day that build upon each other, are easily forgotten. Or simply overlooked. We know where we are now, but we have forgotten what it took to get here.

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I think it should be encouraging that every good decision is a  triumph. Whether it is choosing to eat something delicious and good for our bodies instead of something mediocre and non-beneficial to our bodies, or choosing to be patient with our spouse instead of angry, it is good to be reminded that our decisions and efforts add up.

It is good to be reminded that doing the things we enjoy, rather than the things we do for no reason at all, mean something. Just like every sentence I have written stacked up to over 300 blog posts, every night of reading instead scrolling or scrolling instead of reading, has become a part of where I am today.

There is significance in writing on the days I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like that in the moment at all. But when I look back over three years, I know I didn’t create a blog by not writing every day. And I actually find that quite shocking. Because that is how finite my mind is.

There is significance in winding down with a book before bed instead of browsing instagram beyond the point of enjoyment. There is significance in every thought we think, and everything we do. And when we are drawing our final breath, it will be because every one of them before that was numbered.

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Do you forget that small moments are significant? Do you think it is comforting or scary that they are? Or do you not think every decision is significant? I would love to know your thoughts!

The uncanny similarities between writing and sweet potatoes

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 0 No tags

Most nights when we get home from work, I really don’t feel inspired to make dinner. I am hungry, yes, and I want to eat well, obviously, but I am tired. I know I am not alone in these sentiments.

I don’t enjoy feeling that making dinner is a burden, though. Because I love to cook. I love to cook when the stars are aligned and ingredients are practically calling out to me to be paired up with their complementary counterparts and chicken and parsley and freshly cracked pepper and chicken broth and cream and whatever else, decide to live in harmony with one another for one perfect meal. Which doesn’t always happen. But I have learned that with cooking, as with writing and many other things in life, it’s starting that is the hardest part.

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Tonight  when Eric and I walked through the front door, I was teetering on the edge between dinner prep and a power nap (he went for the nap). I don’t know how dinner preparations won–I don’t remember any persuasive arguments–but I found myself picking up three sweet potatoes that were nearing their time of question-ability and I decided to peel them. Peel them. Not cook them. Eating them was so far in the future, I could’t even think about it. Bridges should be crossed when they are reached, and the bridge where you lay out a blanket and eat your sweet potatoes while dangling your legs over a bubbling brook wasn’t even on my radar.

In that instance of hunger and exhaustion, peeling the potatoes was almost too much, so I decided I would only pick up a sweet potato, and walk it to the trash can with the peeler in my right hand. That’s all I committed to. That’s all my exhaustion would allow me to commit to.

Once I got to the trash can, I decided since I had come this far, I might as well peel the potato. And after it was peeled, I decided I might as well pick up the second potato while I was at it. While I was peeling it, I noticed that peeling potatoes isn’t really as bad as I had made it out to be. Why does vegetable prep get such a bad rap anyway? No one has time for it. That is the mentality behind those bags of faded pre-cut vegetables you can buy at the grocery store for twice as much as the non-faded, unchopped stuff. I get that mentality. I get it because of the mental gymnastics I was currently putting myself through to get to the point where I would have cooked potatoes ready for eating.

But really, peeling potatoes is actually more than a stepping stone to the end product. If you can imagine away the braces and acne, there really is potential in the transitory state.

So what happens to the potatoes next in this page-turning episode? They got chopped into somewhat even pieces, that’s what. And a few minutes later, after sitting in a pan of butter and bacon fat, they become…edible. And that is how you turn raw root vegetables into cooked food, my friends. I hope the surprise ending wasn’t too much of a shock.

I am continually learning that starting is hard, but any effort at all can still produce results. It can also provide motivation to work harder, when you had already resigned yourself to the fact that you would never be able to work hard, ever again. Once, I was surprised that I came to the end of a book I had been reading in ten minute increments on the Metro ride into work. I was surprised because I thought that if you read books only in ten-minute increments, you would be destined to read them ad infinitum.

Sweet potatoes are full of life lessons.

And now I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes about writing:

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow

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So guess who is eating a bowl of sweet potatoes and writing a blog post right now. That is correct. What else is actually for dinner? Heck if I know. But you want to know the twist to this story? I really didn’t want to write a blog post today. I was tired and didn’t know where to begin. However, while the sweet potatoes were cooking, I opened my laptop.

I mean, come on, it’s like I might as well peel and dice up my lap top and fry it in a pan of butter for all the similarities it shares with my sweet potatoes.

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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

Why I am Declaring Bankruptcy

 

Calling yourself a writer feels a lot like Michael Scott declaring bankruptcy: as Toby informs Michael, that is not exactly how it works. You can’t just say something and call it into existence.

But maybe you can declare something, and then take action. Maybe the declaration is necessary as a writer. I don’t know about declaring bankruptcy; I think the rules for that are a little more cut and dry. But as for writing, let the record show I am pro-declaration.


 

Here’s what I think (and where I disagree with Toby): If you write, you are a writer. If your writing is published, you are a published writer. Anyone who writes without a gun pointed at their head can call themselves a writer. But if you want to be called a good writer, well, there is no label so solidifying as that.

There are many writers who have been published, who are bad writers. Just because you are published, does not mean you are a good writer. So, that stinks.

The thing is, if you are looking for validation, you will likely find it. Plenty of people will tell you that you are good at writing, if you ask around enough. Plenty of people will tell you that you are terrible at writing, too. Plenty of publishers will turn you down. As they have turned down many-a-good writer.

I want someone to tell me I have what it takes. But for every person who tells me that, there will be at least one other person out there who thinks I don’t have what it takes. This is why you should never put your self worth in the hands of others. There is little comfort in their opinions.

Being a writer is about writing. It is not about being patted on the back. It is about being the best writer you can possibly be, because that is the best you will ever be, and no more. The only feedback you can ever trust is what is given to you by people you trust and respect. And in that case, you are only a good writer to them. There is also Time, which is perhaps the fairest judge of good writing. But it’s still all a little shaky, isn’t it?

There will always be doubts in the minds of writers as long as there are sentences left to form. But you won’t ever be a writer unless you call yourself one first. I hesitate to call myself a writer because in doing so, I feel like an imposter. Because I am not published. Because I only have this blog. And also because calling myself a writer is totally terrifying. It means I have something to live up to. It means I am opening myself up for judgment. But this is the year for dispelling fears, so I am going to take the leap.

I’m a writer, because I write. I am a writer, because I am working on getting published. I am slowly but surely working on a novel that I will attempt to have published before I die. That may not be good enough for you, but it is good enough for me. And so, I am a writer.

The rock solid truth behind the sentiments of this post is: if you don’t declare it, you can’t fail. By saying I am a writer,I am throwing “failure” into the mix of possible outcomes of my writing journey. But failure is just as subjective as “good writing” is in this instance. And who is afraid of failure? Not me.

How silly this all sounds, now that it is in the open. How silly to be afraid. How silly to declare bankruptcy.

So I ask you this, all of you aspiring writers (or aspring anythings): will you call yourself a writer with me? Let us declare that we are writers as boldly and confidently as Michael Scott declares bankruptcy. And then let’s write–and keep writing until we have become better than anyone else who shares our same thumb print.


P.S. Why writing is terrifying

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