Monday, December 30, 2013

Henry Moore on Resolutions

I think in terms of the day's resolutions, not the year's.  ~Henry Moore

This quote perfectly sums up how I'm feeling about New Year's resolutions before 2014. 

Of course I want this year to be better than the last, but I think in order to do that you have to make every day count for something. Rather than make a big resolution for the whole year (which, let's face it, I would probably not succeed with) I'm going to try to make each day great.

I intend to accomplish even a small thing each day that will help me make progress toward my big goals so that by the end of the year I'm that much closer to achieving my dreams. The only way to make a resolution succeed is by breaking it up into small manageable pieces and making each of those pieces a success. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Creative Cross Training: Photography

photo by me

It's so important for writers to experiment with other creative outlets so that their writing does not get stale. You want your writing to be fresh and interesting, right? The best way to do that is to step away from it periodically and try something new. Let's call it creative cross-training.
The old cliche is "A picture is worth a thousand words." It's a cliche for a reason: a well taken photo can tell you a lot about either the subject matter or the photographer.

A candid photo of a couple can tell you how healthy their relationship is. Are they sitting next to each other holding hands, or is there room for another person between them?

A professionally shot family photo can say a lot about the type of people that are in that family. Are they wearing color coded outfits, or is it just a good thing they all managed to show up?

At first glance a picture of a landscape might look simple, but upon further inspection you might see a rare bird on a branch that the photographer managed to capture on film before it flew away.

I've recently become much more interested in photography, and I've been having fun experimenting with different subjects and lighting environments. Most of the pictures I take are of landscapes or nature scenes but I find it fun to imagine the story that takes place within those scenes. 

Asking myself "What thousand words best describe this photo?" is a great little exercise to get my creative juices flowing so that I can begin my writing day. Maybe the photo has nothing to do with the writing that I'm trying to get accomplished that day, but just thinking and writing about it will get me started and keep my ideas fresh.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

photo by me
Merry Christmas to all my readers!

I'm so thankful to be able to be blogging again. Mostly though, I'm thankful for all of the things that I've learned over the past year. Through all of the tough situations I've been in, I've somehow managed to come out in better shape than I ever imagined.

Last year at Christmas, I was barely able to spend a full twenty-four hours with my family which made me feel awful. It was a bittersweet day - I wanted to enjoy what little time I had, but I couldn't help feeling bad that I would have to turn around and leave again so soon. This year, though, I'm blessed to be in a situation where I can spend much more time with my family and friends who are visiting for the holiday. 

It's funny how things work out sometimes. I'm truly enjoying this holiday season and I hope that you are too. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tis the Season for Baking Treats

photo by me

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas season is baking cookies and other goodies. I love making different kinds of holiday treats and experimenting with new recipes.

Just last night I spent a few hours baking Cranberry Bliss Bars (cranberry and white chocolate bars with cream cheese frosting) which were a new recipe for me. On top of that, I made them gluten free. I was nervous about how they would turn out. They're one of my favorite holiday treats so I wanted to be able to make them at home, but they turned out to be more difficult than I had anticipated. The batter was too thick for my mixer and things got a bit messy.

Thankfully, they turned out very well. Even my dad who never likes gluten free food said that they tasted good. Making the bars was a bit time consuming and rather messy, but they tasted good and will probably be easier to make the next time that I try. I'm happy that I experimented with this recipe because now I can make one of my favorite treats whenever I want.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Abraham Lincoln on Happiness

"Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be."
-Abraham Lincoln

I could not agree more with this statement. Happiness is a choice.

Everyday you have the opportunity to make it either a good day or a bad day and it's your attitude that makes the difference. If something goes wrong, you can either find a silver lining or act like a victim, but how you react makes all the difference. If you make up your mind to be happy at the beginning of the day, you will find that silver linings are much easier to spot when obstacles pop up.

You are the only person who is responsible for your feelings. No one can make you happy or sad but you. If you make up your mind to be happy, you will find it much easier to stay that way.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Books (Don't Always) Make Great Gifts

I remember a teacher I had in middle school once complaining because her husband had given her a book for Christmas. I don't really remember the details beyond that, so I can only assume that it was either one she wasn't interested in reading or that the subject matter was somehow insulting (something with a passive aggressive title like Clean Your House and Everything in It or one of many books in that vein).

The main thing that I remember about this particular instance was that my teacher was basically admitting to us that she didn't like to read. She spent a good chunk of our class time talking about how ridiculous it was that her husband would give her a book. This was a teacher that I liked, so it was strange to me at the time to realize that she didn't like reading, which is one of my favorite activities.

As I've been doing my Christmas shopping this year, I've had a few people on my list that I've been really struggling with what to get. Part of the reason I'm struggling is that these people on my list don't like to read. Ordinarily my go-to last-minute present would be a book, but I'm running into a trap here. Not everyone likes to read.

I hate to be the person who says things like "You just haven't found the right book yet," (which is probably true in most cases) and so I've been running around trying to think of something else. I keep seeing that vision of my teacher complaining about the book she got for Christmas. I'll never understand it, but at least I can try to respect it. After all, any gift giving occasion is about being thoughtful of the person you're giving the gift to. If they don't like reading, you can't force them to change.

Personally, I've always loved getting books on any occasion, but that's just me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lesson Learned: Write Every Day

In anticipation of the end of the year, I'm doing a series of posts regarding the things I've learned this year. Some of them relate to writing, some of them are general life lessons.

You hear this advice more often than you care to, I'm sure. Believe me, so did I. That is, until I actually began to follow it. Once I began to sit down in my chair every day to write in earnest, that is when I finally realized how necessary the daily practice really is.

In the past, I had convinced myself that too much discipline would damage my art. Writing every day would create too much pressure and I would produce subpar work because of the daily need to produce something.

But then I went for a very long time without producing anything at all and I realized that what I needed was, you guessed it: discipline.

I began to write the novel I'm currently working on in June of this year, and after a few months of producing little to nothing but ideas written on scraps of torn-up Post-its, I finally sat down one day and said to myself, "I'm going to write something today." The next day I did it again, and before I knew it I was getting up early each morning to get to work. 

Suddenly, instead of having ideas that didn't even take up full post-its, I was having epiphanies that could take up two or three pages at a time. Rather than wondering why I couldn't come up with anything decent to write, I was excited to get to my desk each day, because I had finally learned that showing up is the hard part. Once you're at the desk, ready to work, the ideas come naturally because there is an outlet waiting for them.

It's cliched advice for a reason: it works. Write every day even if it's only a sentence or two and eventually you'll have a book. It really is that simple.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jumping Ship

How often do you stop reading books halfway through?

I can count the number of books I've given up reading in my life. I hate to do it, because most of the time I want to know what happens, even if I'm not particularly enjoying the book in the first place.

It's a strange compulsion, I know, but I've always felt this way. When I was in second grade, someone gave me a book called Protecting Marie , about a girl and her dog. I found it dull and could barely get through it, but for whatever reason I insisted on finishing it. Even at that age, I couldn't stand to see it on my bookshelf with the bookmark still sticking up in the middle of it.

Anyway, there's only a handful of books I've started to read and then abandoned in the middle. Most notable of these would be Lord of the Flies by William Golding and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (I had an edition that had all three books bound into one volume and I had intended to read the whole thing together, but I gave up somewhere in the second half of the first book and have no intention of trying again.)

In the last few years there have been more books that I've been tempted to put down and not pick back up. I'm learning finally that there's no use spending time on books that I don't enjoy.

Monday, December 16, 2013

George Bernard Shaw on Art

"You need a mirror to see your face and art to see your soul."
- George Bernard Shaw

This couldn't be more accurate. I first saw this on a display piece at the art gallery I worked at for most of this year. It's telling I think, because the art that you surround yourself with is reflective of what means the most to you.

The art that speaks loudest to you may mean nothing to someone else, but that doesn't take away from your connection to it.

What kind of art speaks to you? Do you feel it reflects your soul?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lesson Learned: Keep Your Novel Close

Photo by me.

In anticipation of the end of the year, I'm doing a series of posts regarding the things I've learned this year. Some of them relate to writing, some of them are general life lessons.

Around the time that I moved to the woods, I began working on a new novel. It was different than anything I've ever written before, and I was (and am) very excited about it.

I wanted to tell everyone that I was writing a novel, because I was so excited about it.

But I ran into a problem. Every time I told someone that I was writing a novel, they asked "What's it about?"

I couldn't tell them. It wasn't that I didn't know, it was that I didn't want to. In the past when I'd talked about my novel ideas before I had a complete draft in hand, the magic began to fade each time I told a new person, until eventually I stopped working on it altogether. I didn't want that to happen this time. 

Even though I'm not finished with it yet, I can say that the magic is still there, even though I'm in the dreaded middle section. It may take me a few more months before I'm ready to tell anyone what the novel's about, but I'm okay with that as long as I can keep that magic a little longer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Need Inspiration? Take a Walk!

photo by me

One of my favorite things to do is go walking outside. I’ll take a walk around my neighborhood, on a hiking trail through the woods, on a path following the river, along the beach or just about anywhere that seems convenient and safe. 

I’ll go on walks with my family, a friend or just by myself. Either way, a nice long walk always makes me feel relaxed and refreshed. The fresh air helps me clear my head and the exercise gets my blood pumping.

If I go by myself, I often end up deep in thought as I walk. I can use the time to think about my latest writing project, or dream up ideas for future projects. Usually going on a long walk is just the thing I need when I’m having trouble getting started writing on a given day.

When I go walking with other people, the conversations can be eye opening as well. They’ll often notice things that I might miss while I’m walking by myself or just point out a different angle on whatever topic we’re discussing.

Whenever you feel stuck in your writing, try going for a long walk to clear your head. When you come back to the page you will feel refreshed and ready to tackle the story again.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lesson Learned: Appreciate Simple Pleasures

Photo by me

Stopping to watch the waves crash against the shoreline in every season, even in winter when there's snow on the shore.

Watching birds flock to the feeder in your backyard after you've just filled it up and counting the number of different species you see.

The sound of typewriter keys clanging away and the scent of strong coffee while the sun begins to fill the sky.

Picking wildflowers while out on a long walk so that you can bring some of the outdoors in with you.

What do all of these things have in common?

It's about slowing down enough to enjoy the small bits of life that are lovely and yet so easy to miss.

This year I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time truly appreciating these simple pleasures. It almost became a game to see how many I could notice in a given day. 

It's easy to let life stress you out if you're not careful, but when you really take the time to slow down and pay attention you'll find that there's a lot to be grateful for. Take a minute each day to appreciate a simple pleasure, whatever brings you peace or joy, and see what a difference it makes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Waking Up to A Fresh Coat of Snow

photo by me

One of life’s simple pleasures this time of year is waking up to a fresh coat of snow in the morning. When the ground is still relatively warm so the grass is coated in snow but the streets stay clear.

A thin layer of snow on your car and front steps is a nice sight if you don’t need to be anywhere. I love when it’s still snowing and I can stay home with a nice cup of hot chocolate, a warm blanket and a good book.

I can watch the snow fall and appreciate the beauty of it when it’s not piling up too high. A fresh coat of snow on the ground and in the trees makes the dullness of fall go away for a while. After the leaves have all fallen there’s not much to look at until the first snow.

Once there’s snow on the ground, I can start doing some of my favorite winter activities, like skiing, or having a snowball fight, and then drinking hot chocolate to warm up. It makes the season pass much faster, and before we know it, spring will be here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Creative Cross-Training: Knitting

Photo by me: a sweater I recently finished making

It's so important for writers to experiment with other creative outlets so that their writing does not get stale. You want your writing to be fresh and interesting, right? The best way to do that is to step away from it periodically and try something new. Let's call it creative cross-training.
I first learned to knit when I was about nine years old. My mother taught me the basics and gave me some yarn to make a scarf. It took me about two years to make that scarf (which only ended up being about eighteen inches long and four inches wide) because I would put it down for months at a time and forget to work on it. When I would finally come back to it, I would have to refresh my memory of the stitches and basically start from scratch. Still, somehow I kept coming back to it over and over again until I finished the scarf.

A few years after that, I decided to give knitting another try. I got more yarn and began work on a tote bag. It was an ambitious project for me. The bag had to be knit in four pieces, felted to make the fabric stronger, and then sewn together. It took me nearly five years to finish it, but when I did, I felt like I had truly accomplished something great.

Making the bag was the beginning of a new love for me. Knitting had become something that I could do to get my creative juices flowing. New projects still provide the occasional challenge, but it now only takes me a few weeks to make something. Things that used to be difficult have gotten much easier with time and practice.

Now knitting is nearly a mindless activity for me. I can make most things without concentrating too hard, and this has proved helpful to my writing. Because I don’t have to concentrate too intensely when I’m knitting, I can let my mind wander and most often that will lead me to a creative insight for my writing. 

Usually my best insights about whatever writing project I’m working on come when I’m doing something else.

I love creating new things and experimenting with new materials. Most importantly, I love opportunities to practice creative cross training because they allow me to return to my writing refreshed and insightful.
What’s your favorite form of creative cross-training? How do you keep the creative juices flowing when you get stuck in your writing?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Lesson Learned: Recognize and Appreciate Blessings In Disguise

Photo by me

In anticipation of the end of the year, I'm doing a series of posts regarding the things I've learned this year. Some of them relate to writing, some of them are general life lessons.
This lesson goes hand in hand with the previous one: embrace chaos. I wrote earlier this week about some of the chaos in my life earlier this year and how I learned to embrace it in order to move beyond it.
Another thing I learned from dealing with that chaos, though, was how to recognize and appreciate a blessing in disguise.

I mentioned that I had been passed up for a promotion that I had truly thought I had earned. Well, truth be told, that promotion would have put my life on a course that I don’t want for myself.  It would have meant several years more of working in retail, if not an entire career in that field, when I now know that this is not what I want. 

The blessing in disguise here was that I learned that I enjoy training and teaching others while I was training for the promotion. This led me to realize that rather than trying to grow a career in retail, I would do better to get a teaching license. I decided to combine my love of literature and my love of teaching into a career.  It would have taken me much longer to come to this realization without the opportunity to compete for that promotion.

I went through a big breakup this year too which was part of the reason why I ended up moving. The Walden-style vacation I took in the woods this summer started out as more of a necessity than anything else – I didn’t really have anywhere else to go.

The blessing in disguise here was the opportunity to go on vacation when things fell completely apart. I needed to leave the situation that I was in, and thankfully my family was able to offer me a solution to the problem. Rather than stay where I was, I was able to move to a place I love. Though breakups are never fun, this one turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave me an excuse to finally leave the awful situation that I was in and realign my life with my values.
Everything that I went through this year that felt like a disaster turned out to be a learning experience. I had so many opportunities to recognize blessings in disguise and I’m so thankful that I went through these things this year. I’m still hoping for 2014 to be a better year, but I also appreciate what I learned in 2013.