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August 26, 2011
I laughed out loud when I read the quote below–mostly because it describes me so well. How about you?
“You have your day scheduled out, given over to the expectations of others. You brace yourself for what’s ahead. Then you get a call. The day is cancelled; everyone who needed you is down with a three-day virus. Is there anything more delicious? You know what I’m talking about. We don’t like others to be sick, but we love others to cancel. We become giddy at the prospect of ‘found’ time–time without plans or expectations. Time to think.”
This is from a book called Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength by Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D. She is great at defining introverts.
Contrary to what you might have heard, introverts are not geeky, shy wallflowers, or antisocial. We’re introverts (by definition) because we “recharge our batteries” in solitude or in quiet one-on-one conversations, while extroverts can get recharged in noisy party-type settings with lots of people.
Introverts are not a minority–we’re just quieter than noisy extroverts. A recent large study showed that introverts comprise 57% of the population. That was a surprise to me. I always felt like I didn’t fit in with the masses. As it turns out, introverts are the masses!
I suspect that many writers are introverts. Otherwise, we might not enjoy spending so much time alone writing. And it would explain why our favorite thing to do is read and our favorite places are libraries and bookstores.
Much of the book is about celebrating being an introvert, and then using your introvert traits to thrive in an extrovert country. (Americans prize being extroverts, whereas the Japanese prize being introverts.)
How About You?
Are you an introvert? Will you admit it? (This sounds like Introverts Anonymous: “Hello. My name is Kristi, and I’m an introvert.”) If you think you are, what’s hard for you being an introvert in an extrovert world?
August 5, 2011
I hear it from writers almost on a daily basis. “I can’t find time or energy to write!” Or “If I take time to write, everything else falls apart!”
The idea of living balanced lives is popping up everywhere. It’s definitely a sign of the times and indicative that many feel out of balance. There are articles online for specific people (finding balance as a lawyer) and even websites for finding balance for your dog!
Take Time to Ponder
For your weekend reading pleasure and inspiration, here are some additional ideas and resources for rebalancing your life. [I'm not endorsing all these websites where I found the articles. Some are good, but some are not my cup of tea. The articles have merit though.]
- How to Live a Balanced Life has some good tips. I tried his “Five Golden Minutes” idea and found it very useful for something so simple.
- What is a Balanced Life? will make you think. I thought the teeter-totter example was good here (although we each must choose what to have at the center, or fulcrum, of our lives).
- When You Have No Margin Left: the Pathway to Burnout–the title tells it all!
- Balanced Lives at “Family Fountain” has some good reminders and tips, especially for people with children at home.
- Living with Less: the Importance of Margin gives the four areas where margin is critical.
- 5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance has some good strategies! Tip #5 is a winner you can start today.
- Balanced Life website articles include ten articles on various aspects of living a balanced life. There’s even a 12-week e-course you can take for $25.
- Living in the Margin (Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3) is one woman’s experience of living on both sides of the fence and the radical changes in her life by adding margins. She’s a homeschool mom.
Enjoy the articles. Just remember, though, that nothing will change unless we actually put into practice the suggestions and ideas. Start small. Choose one idea and put it into practice for a week or a month. Then add another one.
Even if you only add one new small balancing habit per month, that would give you a dozen new “balanced living habits” in a year. That’s bound to make a difference!
August 1, 2011
In the Margin book, Richard Swenson, M.D. talked about the tug-of-war in our everyday lives and the challenge of finding balance.
The Balancing Act
I don’t know about you, but I feel a constant tug-of-war between choices. Should I work now, or relax a bit? Should I take action, or should I think about it more? Should I take the lead in this decision, or be a good follower? Should I speak up, or just listen? Should I keep studying and researching and learning, or is it time to apply what I know? Should I judge and confront, or should I give grace here? Should I say yes to this gathering, or retire in much-needed solitude?
It’s no wonder we have difficulty finding balance!
There are so many decisions to make, minute by minute sometimes. Added to that, we know that life requires both. We need to both work and rest. Sometimes we need to speak up, but sometimes we need to listen. We need to both study and apply what we know. We need the company of other people, but writers also require a lot of solitude.
These are not either/or questions. “Balance has always been necessary and will always be necessary. It is just becoming more difficult,” says the author of Margin.
Balance or Excellence?
I believe in high standards. I believe in doing things in an excellent way. In many ways, especially in the past, I’ve gone overboard into perfectionism.
“Much is made today of the virtues of excellence. But what does this mean? Often the excellence described is only in one narrow corridor of life,” says Swenson. He talks of musicians who are virtuosos, executives who live at the office, and other passionate high achievers. Many are not so successful in the rest of their lives though.
Many writers – including myself – have dreamed of the day when they would have time to be passionately high achieving writers. While my children were smaller and I was also teaching, I dreamed of the day when I would have the hours to be one of those high achieving writers I read about. I have met a few of them at conferences, and I admire them a great deal. But each time, when talking to them, I discovered something that I knew I didn’t want in my own life. I didn’t want to ignore my community, give up my ministry at church, lose close contact with grandchildren, or be unhealthy and out of shape. I wanted it all!
“While undivided devotion to one cause can bring great success and vault a person into prominence, such a priority structure often leaves the rest of that person’s life in a state of disorder,” says Swenson. You might excel at your career – like the famous surgeon or performer – yet fail as a parent or neglect personal health in order to achieve it.
I have found this to be true in my own life. I can push through when deadlines demand it. I can do it for months on end if necessary. But to my frustration, something always breaks down. Headaches get bad. I find that I’m out of touch with grown children or grandchildren. Or I put on five pounds because I stopped walking and feel like a slug.
What’s the Answer?
“Doing our best has limits,” says Swenson. “Our rush toward excellence in one quadrant of life must not be permitted to cause destruction in another.” Those who go “all out” for success in one area – even writing – risk failure in other important areas of life.
So what’s the answer? Come back Wednesday, and I’ll give you four tips for restoring balance in your life.
July 29, 2011
The last two posts, I talked about overload, how it happened, and the effect on writers’ lives. Although certain Type A personalities seem to thrive on overloaded lives, most writers don’t.
Our best ideas – and energy to write about them – require some peace and quiet, some “down” time. To get that, we must rebuild margin into our lives.
What exactly is margin? According to Richard Swenson M.D. author of Margin, “Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for unanticipated situations. It is the space between breathing freely and suffocating. Margin is the opposite of overload.”
Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
You might wonder at what point you became overloaded. It’s not always easy to see when it happens. We don’t have a shut off valve that clicks like when we put gasoline into our cars. Stop! Overload! Usually we don’t know that we are overextended until we feel the pain and frustration.
We would be smart to only commit 80% of our time and energy. Instead, we underestimate the demands on our life. We make promises and commit way more than 100% of our time and energy. Consequently, we have no margin left.
A Simple Formula
What exactly is margin? The formula for margin is straightforward: power – load = margin.
Your power is made up of things like your energy, your skills, how much time you have, your training, your finances, and social support.
Your load is what you carry and is made up of things like your job, problems you have, your commitments and obligations, expectations of others, expectations of yourself, your debt, your deadlines, and personal conflicts.
If your load is greater than your power, you have overload. This is not healthy, but it is where most people in our country live. If you stay in this overloaded state for a good length of time, you get burnout. (And burned out writers don’t write. I know–I’ve been there.)
So how do we increase margin? You can do it in one of two ways. You can increase your power – or you can decrease your load. If you’re smart, you’ll do both.
Many of us feel nostalgic for the charm of a slower life. Few of us miss things like outhouses or milking cows or having no running water. Usually what we long for is margin. When there was no electricity, people played table games and went to bed early, and few suffered sleep deprivation. Few people used daily planners or had watches with alarms, let alone computers that beeped with e-mail messages and tweets. People had time to read–and to think–and to write. It happened in the margins of their lives.
Progress devoured the margin. We want it back. And I firmly believe that writers must have it back. Next week we will talk about ways to do just that.
PLEASE SHARE: What do you think so far about this week’s discussion of margin and overload? Do you identify? What does that mean to you as a writer?
May 30, 2011
I’ve been thinking about these questions this week as I’ve journaled and worked through the book Writing For Emotional Balance: A Guided Journal To Help You Manage Overwhelming Emotions. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I was astounded at the relief (and practical help) I found simply through journaling.
I use the Life Journal software, password protected, and I found it so helpful, coupled with the exercises in the book. Writing means a lot to me for many reasons: a way to heal, a way to make a living, a way to connect with readers, and a lot of fun.
So I have this question for you:
What does writing mean to you?
To kickstart your thinking, here are some famous writers’ opinions. Ray Bradbury is quoted as saying: “Writing is survival… Not to write, for many of us, is to die. I have learned, on my journeys, that if I let a day go by without writing, I grow uneasy. Two days and I am in tremor. Three and I suspect lunacy. Four and I might as well be a hog, suffering the flux in a wallow. An hour’s writing is tonic. I’m on my feet, running in circles, and yelling for a clean pair of spats.”
What does writing mean to you?
Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, said: “Writing is a matter of necessity and that you write to save your life is really true and so far it’s been a very sturdy ladder out of the pit.” She sees writing as a safe and strong and dependable way out of a pit.
Again: What does writing mean to you?
May 25, 2011
One of my health goals is to stop taking so much aspirin and other painkillers. It causes more problems than it helps. This has been an ongoing goal for years, and recently I found something amazingly simple that is really helping!
The Painful Side of Writing
When I started writing, I don’t recall ever reading anything about health problems associated with writing. But sitting for hours, especially at a computer, takes a toll on your neck, back, wrists, and hands. The associated headaches and back pain keep many writers on painkillers of one sort or another.
Then my daughter suggested that I get some yoga DVDs. My initial reaction was negative. My mental image of yoga was of some spaced-out chanting person twisted into an inhuman pretzel. Not for me!
Yoga for Writers (and other stiff people)
I quickly learned that my ideas were outdated. From my library, I checked out “Healing Yoga for Aches & Pains,” which was as soothing as a massage (and got rid of my headache!) I have yet to try “Yoga for Inflexible People.” My favorite DVD so far is Yoga: Sitting Fit Anytime, which has nine separate 3-5 minute segments addressing individual needs of people who sit at computers for hours.
It’s easy to follow, you do it sitting, and it targets neck and shoulder tension, lower back pain, upper back pain, tight hamstrings, headaches, and carpal tunnel problems. There was even a segment for stiff hands and fingers. There was no chanting. (FYI: I skip the New Agey intro–not for me! Just want the stretches.)
Preventive and Restorative
If you don’t have aches and pains from writing, thank heaven. But also consider doing some routine stretching to prevent developing such problems. If you already suffer from head, back and/or arm pain, consider yoga as a drug-free solution. Your body–AND creative mind–will thank you.
[P.S. If you long-time faithful readers thought this sounded like a repeat, you're right. Had a ripping headache today that I finally got rid of with the DVD stretches! Thought you all might need the same reminder I did.]
May 18, 2011
I heard a sermon recently about life being filled with “fillers” and “drainers.” The pastor was talking about people, of course.
Fillers are people who know how to encourage you and build you up. Drainers are in your life because they need encouragement and help; however, they don’t have time for you if you need something in return. (You know the type. They think a “give and take” relationship means, “You give, and I take.”)
A rare person is both a filler and a drainer in your life, and you’re blessed if you have a person or two like that in your family or circle of friends.
If we narrow the “fillers and drainers” idea down to writers, I think you will find the idea holds true there as well. You will meet filler writers who are great encouragers for you, who help keep your self-esteem intact through the tough times of rejection, writer’s block, poor sales and negative reviews.
And you’ll meet drainer writers, those who nail you in the restroom at the writer’s conference and want you to give a free critique, then introduce them to your agent or editor.
Occasionally you will meet a treasure: a writer who is both filler and drainer. When you do, treat this priceless person well, and do all you can to sustain the relationship(s).
It’s Your Choice
What kind of writer are you? You may not know other writers yet, so you might not be sure. But you’ll eventually meet writers at conferences, retreats, local writer gatherings or book store signings and readings. In the writing relationships you enter, strive to be a filler as well as a drainer.
If you’re unpublished or newly published, you might think you have nothing to offer. Not true! You don’t have to be published to be an encourager, an uplifter, or a good listening ear. Publishing advice isn’t the only thing other writers need. In fact, I would guess (from my experience) that it’s not even near the top of the list. (That’s why my blog is focused on the emotional issues of writing rather than how to plot or build characters or write a winning query.)
Do a Self-Check
After you attend your next writing event (large or small) ask yourself: “Was I filler or a drainer today?” Did you make encouraging comments as well as ask for help? Did you give as well as take? If you can find that kind of balance, you’ll be able to build writing relationships that will last a lifetime.
May 11, 2011
Women are givers. Women writers are some of the most giving people I know.
We tend to have stronger relationships because of it–with babies, grown children, friends, and extended family.
But unless you learn how to balance all this giving with replenishment, you’ll find it nearly impossible to write.
Gift from the Sea
It has been a particularly busy family time the last six weeks, with little sleep and even less time to write. I wouldn’t go back and change any of it either–very rewarding times. But there comes a time when you realize you’re close to being drained. Pay attention to those times, or you’ll pay for it later (in your health, in your lack of writing, and in lack of patience with those around you).
This morning I was reading a bit in one of my favorite little books, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, Gift from the Sea. I re-read it at least once a year. Here are a few snippets that might speak to you giving women:
- What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It leads …to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.
- Eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.
- Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.
- One must lose one’s life to find it. Woman can best refind herself by losing herself in some kind of creative activity of her own.
Is That You?
If you find yourself feeling fragmented and agitated today, find a way to steal away from everyone for even ten minutes of total solitude (and if possible, silence). Breathe deeply. Bring the energy spilled on everyone else back inside for a few minutes. Re-focus. Relax.
If you have a couple hours, get a copy of Gift from the Sea and read straight through it. You’ll love it!
And if you have a couple extra minutes, leave a comment and tell us your favorite way to find solitude–whether for a day or just a few minutes. We all need suggestions for this!
April 18, 2011
Creativity is a mysterious concept to most of us. We don’t really understand what it is, where it comes from, why it leaves us, and how to make it “work” consistently. We give it a lot of power because of this.
However, says the author of The Soul Tells a Story, “if I know from experience that inspiration arrives under certain conditions, I will make sure to re-create the conditions that invited it initially. Thus my early experience comes to determine how it is I will work.”
After our vacation took an unexpected turn, I’ve had more time to reflect this week than the past five years combined. For four blissful days, I had no Internet connection, nowhere we had to be, plenty of books to read, places to walk, and time to think. I hadn’t really realized what an incredible luxury this is in the fast-paced world in which we live.
How Things Have Changed…
Because of marketing demands the last five years–both online and elsewhere–the writing life has been a bit frantic. I don’t know about you, but frenetic activity is not conducive to coaxing out my creativity. That much I already knew. But I hadn’t given much concentrated thought to what things did work for me.
Each writer is different. I know writers who must be surrounded by noise and people or loud music in order to write. I am just the opposite, preferring quiet and solitude when I can get it.
If you’re not sure what conditions are best for you, think back to when you started writing. How did you work best then? What conditions did you just naturally create for yourself? What are the non-negotiables you must have for your creativity to flourish?
Take a Self-Inventory
Here are some things to consider:
- Before writing, do you need some quiet time to think, meditate, or pray?
- Can you write at any time of day–or only at certain times?
- Can you write any place–or do you need your “office” to be the same each day?
- Can you write in tiny bits of time–or does your creativity absolutely require large chunks of time? Does it vary depending on the stage of your book?
- How much socializing do you need in order to be your most creative? (This includes time with writers and non-writers alike, time to “talk shop” and time to just have fun.)
- When you are stuck, does it help to read a book on craft (viewpoint, research, inspiration, etc.) to get your creativity flowing again?
- Does reading other writers’ books help you be more creative–or does it make you feel anxious as you compare yourself to them?
- Do you need a healthier diet or more sleep for your creativity to be at its peak? Or do you work best on short naps and skipping meals?
- What kind of critique at what point in your project is helpful? What kind is the kiss of death to your creativity? (When is your ego more fragile?)
- Do you work best with a deadline, or do deadlines make you freeze up? Do you do well with six-month deadlines but choke on series deadlines set every two months?
- Can you be creative when dealing with emotional upset? Do you need to solve family problems before you can settle down to write?
Take Time to Know Yourself
As we’ve said before, just because conditions aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. We’ve all had to produce work under some appalling conditions. But if you have a choice, it’s lovely to set up your life and home and schedule and diet and social life so that it most benefits YOU and your creativity. (And you probably have more choices than you think.)
Take time to answer the above questions. If you’ve been writing a long time, you may have forgotten what conditions kick started your writing in the first place.
I started writing when my oldest three kids were babies and toddlers. We had a farm in Iowa, lots of pets, big vegetable gardens, no Internet, few neighbors, lots of room inside the farmhouse and outside, lots of quiet and fresh air. It can’t have been as ideal as my memory makes it out to be, but it was very conducive to thinking and pondering and reading and writing.
It also bears almost no resemblance to my life today–although I’m planning and plotting ways to bring back some of those elements into my daily life. I loved having my children around me. I’m happiest now when I’ve had plenty of contact with my three grandchildren. I loved living in the country then; now we live in town, but next door to a park and greenbelt, so it is much the same if I just got outside more and enjoyed the fresh air. I’d like to have a vegetable garden again, but I’ll skip the pets.
The biggest change I see is having the Internet. I’m an introvert–preferring solitude and quiet when it’s time to write. Being online for any length of time is agitating to me, for some odd reason (even though I view very benign websites!) Afterwards, I find it hard to settle down and write.
I’ve been staying offline until noon recently, and it’s been helpful. After having five days of “no Internet access” on this trip and seeing how much more creative and productive I’ve been, I’m thinking of pushing back the Internet time to 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. only. [This isn't some rule I'm advocating for all of you. This is just a case of getting to know myself--what helps me and what hinders my own creativity.]
I’ve also noticed how much better I’m sleeping. Being offline in the evenings is a big help there too. It’s so tempting to deal with email while watching TV in the evening, or check the blog comments, or see what the kids have posted to Facebook (usually grandkid pictures).
But when I get home, I think I’ll make the Internet off limits after 5 p.m. and see if I sleep better there too. I may have to close the door to my office and pretend that I punched out on a time clock. Most people who work at home have trouble quitting at supper time and not going back to the office at night. It’s a habit I’m going to try hard to break.
Now It’s Your Turn
What about you? What things do you suspect would help you coax your creativity out of hiding on a more regular basis? What changes are the hardest to make? What one change could you make today?
April 11, 2011
“Crazymakers like drama,” says Julia Cameron in her classic book for writers, The Artist’s Way. “If they can swing it, they [the crazymakers] are the star. Everyone around them functions as supporting cast, picking up their cues, their entrances and exits, from the crazymaker’s (crazy) whims.”
You may have a quiet weekend of reading and writing planned, but then voila! A crazymaker shows up. It might be someone you thought was banned from your life for good. It might be someone no one else suspects is your crazymaker. They might rage and scream–or knife you in the back while smiling in the traditional passive-aggressive style.
“Whether they appear as your overbearing mother, your manic boss, your needy friend, or your stubborn spouse,” says Cameron, “the crazymakers in your life share certain destructive patterns that make them poisonous for any sustained creative work.”
Enough is Enough
Sometimes you get blind-sided by crazymaking behavior. It can be shocking and look ludicrous. It turns your schedule upside down, destroys any plans you might have, nearly always costs you time and/or money, is draining with its drama, and–if they’re really good–the crazymaker can blame you for the whole problem they created.
I’ve had more than my share of crazymakers to deal with in life. (I suppose everyone feels like that!) Anyway, it happened to me again recently, and I was tickled by my reaction. I recognized the game, called a spade a spade, and was astounded to see the problem go away. It didn’t cost me any sleep, and the crazymaker found someone else to harrass.
A Dance by Any Other Name…
Julia Cameron always said, “If you are involved in a tortured tango with a crazymaker, stop dancing to his/her tune.” Yes, that’s easier said than done–but it CAN be done! I was thrilled to see that if I stepped back and didn’t play the game, it stopped. And beyond that, I got some writing done!
Maybe there are some nut cases in your own life that need to be banished for the sake of your creativity. If so, deal with it as soon as possible. You’ll be soooo glad you did!Newer Posts »