Sunday, September 29, 2013

Recharging the Batteries--by Brian Katcher

Right now, I'm as done as I'm ever going to be with my latest rewrite. Actually, I finished last month. Unfortunately, my editor is engaged with other projects, and asked me to hold off on submitting it until the first of October.

No sweat. It'll give me a little time to relax. No more feeling of guilt when I'm not spending every spare minute writing.

So what do I do with these hours?


On the Discovery channel, no less.


The reason I never finished my 'kids with cancer' book.
Those projects around the house?

It's taken me two years to scrape one section of wallpaper in my hall, and it still looks like hell.

When my daughter was born, I promised myself that I would only keep up with one hobby: writing. So now when my wife and kid are in bed (I never sleep, by the way), what's there left for me to do? Write!

Quite frankly, I consider the outside world a distraction from the written one. Now if there were just some way to get rid of that pesky job, I could finally dedicate my life to what's important: showing up John Green.

PS: I totally lied about not watching TV. I've been looking forward to new episodes of The Big Bang Theory all summer. Tonight, the season premier didn't DVR. I don't want to point fingers, but it was totally my wife's fault and I don't love her anymore. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Three Rs (by Margie Gelbwasser)

Recharging, relaxing, and writing. I like each of these things. The problem is that I usually only do the last one.

Over the summer, I had a routine. My son would go to camp, I'd go to the gym or for a run, and then I'd write the rest of the day. I felt great. Not only was I productive (at least 10k words a week), but I felt good and the ideas were flowing. Then, the school year began, and everything went downhill.

This is my schedule now. Work at school until 3, get my son from his school, take him to activities, do homework with him, get dinner ready, zonk out and watch tv. The writing? So, you noticed it missing from the schedule too, huh? Exercise? Yep. Vanished. I'm under a deadline now so my last few weekends have been marathon sessions of revising and I'm exhausted, mentally and physically. I want to recharge and go for a walk or run. I often get my best ideas this way, but there's no time. If I wrote full time, it would be a different story.

At this point, I can't afford to slow down (deadline looming, biting, barking), but as soon as I'm done with this book, I'm reevaluating my plans. One of my friends and I have already made plans to write at least one night a week, and I have a gym coupon itching to get activated. In the meantime, I just have to keep my head in the game and try to squeeze in a walk this weekend. Or a food shopping trip. Who wants to put bets on which task will win?

I'm afraid this entry was a bit of a bummer so let me leave you with some relaxing photos of places I like to run. Pretend I'm there. :-)

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Porch Cure (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Our house is surrounded by trees, and we have a back porch (shady) and a front porch (partly sunny). They’re great places to sit and read. But between my day job, my writing, all the business that goes with writing, keeping up with the people in my life, and random household chores, I found myself not quite making it out there. I kept looking out there and saying, “I should get out there and enjoy this yard I spend so much time working for,” and I kept not doing it.

It finally hit me that there is ALWAYS something else to do. I will never run out of things to do. I will never get to the bottom of every list.

So this summer I made a special point of dropping everything for an hour on weekend days when I was home, and I sat out there and read. We have had many glorious days this year, dry and sunny. Even the hot days weren’t so bad when spent in the shade, lying still.

I did not bring my phone or any computer or any other gadget out on the porch. I brought my book and a glass of water. Sometimes I read, and sometimes I watched the leaves rustle in the breeze, and sometimes I watched my cat groom himself or change position as he napped.

An example of the cat's napping positions. You can see why one would find him entertaining.

The wind chimes rang; birds flitted past. On June evenings, just when it was getting too dark to read, the fireflies came out, flashing green.

I love taking week-long vacations away from it all. But I don’t have to save up all my tiredness for those; I don’t have to wait so long. The Porch Cure is a simple break that I can do regularly.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Name is Kristin and I'm a TV Addict

The thing about writing words all day is that it gets a bit draining. Words. Words. Words. By the end of the day (or the middle...) I just want to get OUT. As far far away from the computer as I can. One day a week, I take a jazz dance class just before lunch, and another day, tap dance. Breaking up the day with exercise is never a bad idea. I mean, when your job is to sit on a computer all day and make stuff up, you have to do something to firm that squishy tushy.

There's nothing like a leisurely walk outside with my playlist shuffling through movie scores to refresh my brain. Often, I utilize this walking time to brainstorm a new story idea, get to know my characters a little better, figure out the ending of a problem chapter. But sometimes, I don't want to think about my stories at all, and I'll listen to an audiobook while I walk (I'm currently listening to Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, and next up is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak).

But sometimes a walk isn't what I need. Sometimes I just want to SIT and do NOTHING. And since I don't live anywhere near THIS gorgeous view where I can sit and do nothing while being inspired ...

I've been known turn to television for a break. Which sometimes has been known to turn into marathoning. Curse you Netflix instant! 

My current obsession is Fringe. 

I'm nearly finished with season 4, and I'm ashamed to say that I don't even know if it was a month ago that I started it.... Don't ask me how I have time to watch so much TV, I don't. But somehow it gets watched (though I am very good at multitasking if I feel guilty for ignoring my chores--I can "watch" TV and edit photos, clean the house, fold laundry, etc.). I'm so addicted to all of it. Peter and his coats and scarves, Walter and his nicknames for Astrid (Astro, Asteroid, Aphid, Aspirin, Asterisk), Olivia and even Fauxlivia (she's growing on me), and of course, Lincoln Lee! *HUGS ALL OF THEM*

I'm also rewatching Alias for the third (or so) time. What can I say? I'm team JJ Abrams. 

Hubs and I are working through this slowly. We'll watch an episode or two a week during dinner. It's a bonding experience. I love everything about this show. The characters, the well-placed humor, the suspense! The fact that I can rewatch it more than once and still love it just as much, if not more. 

And to further prove that I'm team JJ, we recently finished our LOST rewatch. 

Best show ever. The end. 

Oh, and did I mention that those movie scores I listen to are mostly composed by Michael Giacchino, who typically scores all of JJ's projects? Told you. Obsessed. I win. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

gathering words for winter

They keep me awake at night. Characters whisper to me in dreams. Their voices might belong to a book I have yet to write. Or a story that keeps tugging at my imagination, refusing to let go. Even when I'm not sitting at my desk, it always feels like I'm writing inside my head.

pigeon and book
When I'm working on a book, I scribble lots of doodles on paper. Here's Wendy, the pigeon outside Aaron's window in NARC.

doodles and a book
My desk usually looks like this.

summer bike ride
If I get tired of words, I go for a bike ride. It's my favorite solution to untangling a difficult scene. By the time I get home, I've usually found the answer.

A long walk is also a good way to tackle a revision letter. I plug myself into my iPod and daydream while the songs swirl around me (every work-in-progress has its own soundtrack).

On the subway, I catch bits and pieces of conversation. So many stories floating through the tunnels. Sometimes it feels like we're living in a movie with no end.

Toronto airport
The airport is the perfect spot for daydreams. Everybody is rushing around, trying to get somewhere. But if you sit and listen, you'll find lots of writerly inspiration.

NY Art Book Fair
If you want to write, you should read as much as possible. Read constantly. Always remember why you fell in love with words. In that way, you're never taking a break. You're like Frederick in Leo Leonni's beautiful book....gathering sun rays and words for the winter.

Frederick (1986) from waanaki on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Decompression (Patty Blount)

This month, we're blogging about ways we recharge and relax and deal with the many pressures of trying to balance our writing careers with day jobs, motherhood, and so on.

I haven't had a vacation where I actually went off somewhere and did the tourist thing in years. My time off these days is typically spent attending writer conferences. Days off, weekends -- those are for writing and catching up on the chores I didn't do during the week because I was writing.

When the words stop flowing, when I can't find the right mood for a scene, that's when I know I need to walk away for a little while. For a mini-battery recharge, I grab the Kindle and hit the elliptical machine. I find exercise does a great job of clearing away the mental cobwebs. Picture vacuuming a dust-clogged vent and how the air flows stronger and clearer. That's how it feels. The Kindle helps me pass the time. If I can get absorbed by a book, I can pedal that machine for thirty minutes. If I'm staring at the clock, I don't do more than five because I'm bored.

I like to re-read old favorites. I hear many of you gasping. But it's true. For me, it's like hanging out with an old friend. I save books where certain scenes punched through my chest to squeeze my heart. I read those sections, study them, look for the traits that made them work for me. There are sex scenes and then there are love scenes -- the two are not always the same thing. There are action scenes and fight scenes -- also not the same thing. There are break-up scenes, reconciliation scenes, growth scenes -- every author writes them differently and reading their work helps me reclaim my lost focus on my own writing.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Watching my kitty nap (Lauren Bjorkman)

I LOVE to write. When I sit down in front of the screen, cradling my cappuccino, an ahh-feeling comes over me. Bliss. Even when it's hard.

Still, writing every day makes me weary. And on most days I'm up to my ears in to-do lists, husbands (just one actually), kids, and pets. The mere idea of relaxation makes me laugh an evil laugh. So I do what any insane woman would do. I grab me recharge on the run.

My family likes to travel. I like to travel.

Iron age fort in Scotland: Pelle modeling rain gear

 My family likes to eat. I like to eat.

Sometimes we eat dinner out. Mostly pizza, though. This is my dream meal.

My husband likes to dance. I like to dance.

I wish I looked this good while dancing! My kids tend to hide from us at concerts.

My cats like to nap. I like to nap. Unfortunately, I don't get to.

Watching Zorro sleep is the next best thing to snoozing myself.

My family likes to laugh. I like to laugh.

My brother-in-law took this picture on a trip to DC.

Somehow it all works. 

Though I sure could use a nap.

Monday, September 16, 2013

My Recharging Buddy

Like many of my fellow YAOTLers, I rarely take breaks. And sadly, when I do take breaks, I feel sorta guilty. I don't know why this is. Well, maybe I do.

I have NO TIME to take a break. This month, which happens to be the month that my first book Thin Space is released, has been crazy. My to-do list is ridiculously long and never completely checked off.

I'm trying to make peace with that, telling myself stuff like: I can only do so much in one day.... I should let some things go.... Most of these deadlines are all self-imposed anyway, yadda yadda ya. This pep talk helps a bit, but I still have a vague sense of unease all the time--that I could probably do more if I pushed a little harder.

But here's the thing: I don't want to be a person whose life revolves around checking items off a list.

My first book is out! This is a dream come true, 20+ years in the making, and I want to enjoy it, or at the very least BE in the present moment and not be ticking away in the back of my head all the things I've still got left to do.

So, the other day I was walking my dog (I walk my dog, a sweet, hyper, brilliant doggie named Zooey, at least three times a day) and I was ruminating over this post--ie. How was I going to write about taking breaks when I haven't taken a break in months? --when it hit me that walking my dog three times a day IS my way of taking breaks.

Confession: I did NOT want to get a dog.

It was my daughter's idea, and last year around this time she was slowly wearing my husband and me down with her campaign to go to the pound and adopt a puppy. The trouble was I didn't like dogs. Actually, I was scared of them. When I was a kid, a dog bit me on the mouth and I still have the scar. I relayed this gruesome story to my daughter and pointed out, too, that dogs take a lot of work. And who are we kidding here? I am the one who is going to have to take care of it. Also, dogs smell.

We went to the pound to pick out a dog.

I was the one who found Zooey. Or rather, she is the one who found me. (Cue: dramatic, romantic music) I cannot explain it. Our eyes locked upon each other's, and Zooey cocked her head to the side and wrinkled up her forehead. And that was that.

It turns out that she is the perfect writer's dog.

Every day we begin with a walk. Rain or shine or snow. Then it's back home and time for work. My work involves parking myself on the couch in the living room (which has become my office since we got Zooey) and firing up my laptop. Zooey's work consists of curling up on the back of the couch and snoozing adorably. Every so often she scares the crap out of me warns me when a jogger, biker, another dog walker, or the secret psychotic serial killer (aka the mailman) is passing by. Zooey is never off duty when it comes to home security.

After several hours of our respective work, Zooey leaps up from her perch like someone has set her on fire and licks my ear. Which means it is time for walk number two.

Before I got a dog I did not take frequent mini breaks. I rarely got dressed. Some days I did not leave my house. My exercise was yoga (which I miss doing) but I have discovered that there is a zen-like, meditative quality to dog walking too.

I write blog posts in my head and work through plot holes.

I'm in tune with the seasons and little goings on in the neighborhood. For Sale signs going up. Houses being remodeled and landscaped. A bunch of a balloons tied to a mailbox welcoming a baby.

I meet new people (and their dogs). Zooey tries to attack greet each one, and I struggle with issues of pet parenting. Should I buy her a different harness? Should we take obedience classes? What is going on in that doggie brain of hers? Zooey, we see that girl walking to school carrying her violin EVERY DAMN DAY! She is not our enemy!!!

I ruminate over big philosophical questions: Why do some dog owners not pick up their dog's %*^*$ poop? And: Why must Zooey seek out all of these %*^(*% left-behind treasures?

For those twenty minutes, I exist in the here and now, no book deals or writing angst or ridiculously long to-do lists, just my hand clenched around Zooey's leash, eyes scanning the street (in case Zooey should notice a squirrel and jerk my arm out of the socket in her quest to kill it make friends).

And then Zooey and I return home to our spots on the couch, both of us recharged and geared up to continue our work for the day.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Washing Away the Dust of Everyday Life (Amy K. Nichols)

Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Boy, was he right.

When I get too busy for too long, I crave art. Both experiencing it and creating it.

Yes, writing is one way of creating art. But when I need to recharge, the art I crave is visual, experiential. I’m not sure what it is about art that I find so relaxing and reviving, but for me there are few things that compare.

The wonderful thing about art is I’ve found it feeds my writing. For me, the writing process is a pouring out. The process of creating art, or experiencing art, is a filling up. The two work together. It’s a mysterious, beautiful thing.

One of my favorite things to do is visit museums. I love standing quietly in front of artwork, contemplating. The pieces don’t have to be famous or even well known. They just have to be interesting. For example, I love spending time with a piece entitled “Mass (Colder Darker Matter)” by Cornelia Parker, at the Phoenix Art Museum:

Mass (Colder Darker Matter)
Mass (Colder Darker Matter) by Cornelia Parker
When you become very still in front of this piece, you realize it’s moving. I find it compelling, engaging, relaxing.

Portree Bay, Isle of Skye
Portree Bay, Isle of Skye by Amy K. Nichols
I also love creating my own art. I’m by no means a trained artist. I just like to try different things. Painting, drawing, welding, mucking about with different kinds of paper or glass or clay. Sometimes I make something I'm happy enough with to hang on my wall; sometimes it doesn’t turn out so great. But the result doesn’t matter so much as how I feel after. I always come away recharged, renewed, and ready to get back to writing.  

The struggle, of course, comes with finding time. Right now I’m on deadline and the craving for art is growing stronger every day. I have a few weeks yet to go, but as soon as my manuscript is off to my editor, I’m off to the museum. And the art supply store. 

Are you recharged by art, too? If so, I'd love to hear your experiences.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Life Forces You to Take a Break (by Nancy Ohlin)

This summer, I almost lost my husband to a rare illness.  He is young (39) and was previously healthy, so this was completely unexpected. 

I did not handle it well.

For weeks after he got out of the ER, I didn’t take a break.  I barely slept.  I stopped attending yoga classes and going for long walks because they were “non-essential” activities.  Every ounce of my limited energy went into caring for Jens, who was recuperating from surgery, and our five-year-old daughter Clara.  Some days, most days, I felt like I was the only thing that kept the machinery of our domestic life going.  If I didn’t work tirelessly 24/7 to [fill in the blank], everything would surely come to a screeching halt.  We would have no clean dishes to eat on.  We would have no food to eat, period.   And what about the bills?  And the laundry?   And the pets?  And so on and so on.

I also happened to be juggling several book deadlines at the time.   But there was no way I could write.  The only workout my computer got was when I updated friends and family on Jens’s condition, Googled his illness (obsessively), and emailed my editors to ask for extensions. 

But eventually, the same anxiety that made me draft grocery lists at 2 a.m.  (We’re out of toilet paper!  And Clara’s favorite mac and cheese!) subsumed my professional life.  I convinced myself that if I didn’t get back to my projects ASAP, I would lose my creative momentum, alienate my editors, and never see another check or book contract ever again.  Duly panicked, I returned to my computer and tried to finish up my overdue chapters, usually while Jens and Clara slept.  The process was like pushing through molasses—the words came, but very slowly and with excruciating effort. 

And I still didn’t take a break.

Gradually, our lives started eking back to normal.  Jens felt better and stronger and was able to go back to work.  He could pitch in at home and with Clara.  I was able to get off my hamster wheel of non-stop activity.

At which point life forced me to take that long-overdue break.  The full weight of what had happened—the fact that my soul mate, best friend, and the father of my children had almost died—sunk in.   I’d filled my brain with so much crazy clutter (chores!  errands!  deadlines!) that I hadn’t been able to process things emotionally. 

And so I had a mini-breakdown.  I let myself cry in bed for an entire day.  My mind and body were clearly telling me to stop, already.

After the fog cleared, I realized that I had to recharge.  Really recharge.  I was absolutely running on empty, and I couldn’t keep going like that.

I didn’t have the luxury of taking a couple of months (or weeks or even days) off.   So instead, I did the following:

1.  I took many deep breaths.  (I’m doing that now, even as I write this.)

2.  I resumed my yoga classes and walks.

3.  I told Jens that I loved him and hugged him a lot.   I do this every day now.

4.  I resurrected some of my favorite old rituals:  short naps after lunch; long, hot showers with bubbly, fragrant products; green tea; dark chocolate; candles; listening to the Bach unaccompanied cello suites; and lying down at least once a day in the savasana pose (a quick hit of deep relaxation).

5.  I started going to bed at a reasonable hour.  (I’m still working on this one, but at least I’m trying.)

6.  I spent my remaining summer weekends with Jens and Clara, even though I had a billion other things I “should” have been doing.  We went to the Farmer’s Market; we went swimming; we picked raspberries and peaches; we made silly crafts.  It was blissful, and at the end of the day I felt less overwhelmed by my many to-do lists.

Part of me still feels like I’m in a state of emergency, although it gets a little better and easier every day.  Hopefully, soon, I can incorporate more recharging rituals, like going out with my friends or getting a massage once in a while.   And maybe someday, I can take a real break from life and not do anything but pick raspberries.  Or write without deadlines.  Or cry some more.

But until then, I’m just grateful that I can give myself the little gifts that I do. And I will keep breathing and eating chocolate and hugging Jens as often as I can.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A New Sunday Tradition (Stephanie Kuehnert)

I'm kind of a workaholic....

Okay, not kind of.

It comes with the writer mentality in a way as I think has been shown by my fellow bloggers posts this month. Also since it's pretty rare to be able to make your living off of writing alone these days, most writers I know have a LOT on their plate. For the past five years, I've juggled writing novels with writing for magazines and newspapers and teaching and bartending. Now I'm working a full-time office job and teaching and writing for magazines. (The novel writing will start up again once the teaching is done. Or in journals on lunch break. I'm figuring it out...) This transition came about when my husband and I moved to Seattle in July.

My old bartending job meant I worked nights and weekends, and um, hardly ever got hang out with him. When we moved, I was jobless for awhile, so whenever my husband was off, we went on adventures, exploring our new city. His schedule rotates, but he always has Sundays off and we quickly fell into a routine of going for a hike or a walk in one of Seattle's many enormous parks and then going out for vegan brunch. (I've been vegan since I was 17 and part of the reason I moved was for the food!)

Even though it is going to be very, very, VERY tempting to work on Sundays now that I'm scrambling to fit all of the other things in with my full-time job, I refuse to give up this new Sunday tradition. I know that I need it. It will keep me sane and happy. It can be something to look forward to after five days of work and another day of writing/chores AND it can be a way to assure that I always start my week in a good mood.

Here's just a glimpse of the places we've gone on our walks so far:

Marsh and Foster Islands near UW:

Where we found out that you can also rent canoes so we went back and did that and saw these turtles:

Cougar Mountain, where we went on a much longer and steeper and slight scarier (no cougars, just narrow paths that were rather high up) hike than expected because there was supposed to be a view here... Nature hide the view. Can't blame it. And it was still very pretty.

Discovery Park A.K.A. my favorite place in Seattle because it's wooded and beachy and there are tons and tons of wild blackberries which technically you aren't supposed to pick and eat, but um, we did, shhh. We also saw a seal out swimming, but it was too far away to get a good picture:

Oh yeah, there's a cool lighthouse too:

Carkeek Park, which is also both beachy and foresty (yes, I like the best of both worlds!)

And Golden Gardens, which is a beach where I actually went swimming on Labor Day Weekend!

Yes, so far it has been pretty sunny, but we still plan to hike through rainy Seattle winter too. And as for eats we've been loving Wayward Vegan Cafe, Cafe Flora, and until they stopped serving brunch (WAH!), the Highline was our favorite.

This weekend the plan is to go outside of the city to Rattlesnake Ledge and since it is near North Bend and I'm a big Twin Peaks geek, I might insist we go to Twede's Cafe A.K.A the Double R Diner from the show and have Agent Cooper's favorite cherry pie.

I know Sundays are a day of relaxation for a lot of people. What's your tradition? 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Alone Again, Naturally (Jennifer Castle)

In early 2009, my life was at Maximum Chaos: I had just given birth to my younger daughter Clea (she of marathon wakefulness and siren lung power) and my older daughter, Sadie, was in the oh-didn't-you-hear-the-twos-are-nothing "tyrannical threes." Of my three beloved rescue cats, one was in the throes of old-age dementia and another had gone deaf, so they both walked around meowing constantly for no reason. We were living in a 900-square-foot house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, and you couldn't move without stepping on or bumping into something. If you were lucky, it was a doorway or a piece of furniture; if you weren't, it was a dirty diaper, somebody's barf, or a toy with excruciatingly sharp corners.

Everybody needed something from me around the clock...which meant I had nothing to give myself, let alone creative energy or even, say, the ability to remember what day it was. So of course, this was the moment the universe decided it was time to ignite my career as an author. I had sent the manuscript of The Beginning of After to an agent right before my baby's due date; now I was signing a contract with her and mapping out revisions in between pumping milk and potty training. I cried a lot. It was not always with joy.

Since then, writing under the often-crushing pressure of a hundred daily responsibilities has been my Normal. I often feel like I have to fight for every hour of creative focus. I'm not sure this is a bad thing; it means I don't mess around when I've got my "butt in the chair." I'm always in a race against all the life-things on the other side of my closed office door. It's made me better, faster, stronger as a writer.

But still. I've always been someone who requires wide swaths of time alone. To listen to my inner narrative, or find it again in the first place. To serve only my own needs and nobody else's, and in the process, better understand what those needs even are. To rediscover, in the quiet, the delights of daydreaming and simply, remembering. And to be annoyed by nobody but myself. I get a little crazy and a lot bitchy if I don't get that on a regular basis.

Fortunately, I have a husband and kids who understand this, and an extended family who supports it. Every so often, I'll get a gift: two or three days alone at home. Hubby and daughters go away somewhere to have fun without me, and my soul steps up to the strange buffet of an empty house. The point is for me to write, of course; to write a hell of a lot. And I do. But I fill in the breaks with other powerful recharging activities, such as:

1) Waking up in the morning and reaching for a book (and not my laptop, or the remote), then reading in bed for a long, long time.

2) Ignoring all housework. And any food preparation that takes longer than 5 minutes. If this means I end up eating plain spaghetti out of a teacup from my kids' toy kitchen, so be it.

3) Finding my music. Sometimes that's in the form of my old LP's and a barely-used turntable. Sometimes it's surfing Spotify for my favorite 80's movie soundtracks. Playing it. Sometimes actually, maybe, dancing to it.

4) A cup of bad-ass PG Tips tea, a chunk of dark chocolate, and my journal at the kitchen table. Swearing to journal more often and not when I'm on a "home retreat," knowing I probably won't but that's okay.

5) Guilty pleasure movie rental. Must be dumb romantic comedy that husband would hate or, alternatively, binge-watching of "Glee," "Downton Abbey," "Mad Men," "True Blood," or (most recently) "Orange Is The New Black."

6) Just sitting. And listening. And answering whatever questions I hear, but only as a whisper to myself.

By the time my family returns, the well has been refilled. I'm happy if that lasts a couple of days. I'm extra-happy when it somehow shows on the page, even if I'm the only one who can see it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Of Yoga, the PCH, NYTimes Wedding Announcements and other things that 'Fill the Well'

I think one thing that any artist can agree upon is that if you don’t ‘refill the well’ you run out of things to say and the energy and creativity to say them. But it’s easier said than done sometimes, you know?  Still, it’s crucial. I believe that the creative mind needs space and quiet and it’s part of my job to give my brain what it needs. Which is why so many of us get our best ideas while walking the dog or taking a shower or going for a run.

For me, it’s more than just quiet time, though. I need to read – and different genres than what I write. So I need to pick up a biography or a travel book or a volume of David Sedaris’s humorous essays. I need to read goofy stuff like the wedding announcements in the New York Times – which if you’ve never perused, you absolutely MUST! Here is a link to this week’s, which is a prime example of what I’m talking about, the bride and groom in the featured article having met in something called “anchoring class,” which has something to do with sailing.

See what I mean? How can my internal batteries not recharge from reading this?
 They are crazy amusing and fascinating doorway into the lives of not only the bride and groom but often also their parents and communities. Sometimes they’re touching. Sometimes I’m rolling on the floor. But if I’m going to write about people, then I need to ‘see’ as many people as possible, and not just the ones I bump into while buying toilet paper at WalMart. (Okay, I no longer shop at WalMart if I can help it. I’m more of a Target girl. But you see my point)

What else do I do the fill the well? I travel when I can – plan trips for the future when our budget is too tight. I found a way to afford an extra night when we recently went to a wedding in the Central Coast of California. Because driving up the PCH is something you just have to do as regularly as you can do it. And the weird little boat ride with Captain Stew at Morro Bay (pic above) allowed me to see otters and sea lions and the heavily pierced couple making out under the blankets on the bench across from us. After which I had a dynamite halibut burger. And on the way back to San Luis Obispo, toured the pink highway oddity that is the Madonna Inn. (go into the downstairs men's room and look at the urinal. YOU SIMPLY MUST DO THIS.) And a million other things that maybe someday will filter into a story.

I’m taking conversational French, too – the Pimsleur method because if it’s good enough for David Sedaris, then it’s good enough for me. It’s audio only, which has been a HUGE stretch. I have to listen standing up or else my mind drifts. But I am LEARNING French! My well is filling with the baguettes I will someday order in Paris.

Two nights a week, I take yoga from a flexible and peaceful soul named Tiffany, who can bend her body into positions that even if I were hit by a semi I will never achieve. But when I am on the mat, that hour is for me. It is about recharging and balance and breathing and often about laughing at myself when I try to do that crow thing. Plus the 80 year old man who’s always on the mat next to me is a wizard at yoga. It alternately humbles me and pisses me off.

There’s more, but really, I think you get it, right? If you just work, or if you just play, you run out of  ‘you.’ Am I using this justify my excitement that Bethenny Frankel’s talk show is going to be carried in Houston now? Maybe. But if it fills the well, then that is OKAY.

What do you do to recharge your internal and emotional batteries?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Taking A Big Break (Sydney Salter)

A few months ago, I realized that I'd finally accumulated enough frequent flyer miles to visit these guys!

My sister-in-law with kids in downtown Sapporo.

My brother and sister-in-law teach at Hokkaido International School in Sapporo, Japan. That means my niece and nephew live a whole ocean away, too. 

I'd been muddling through my WIP, futzing with this and that detail as I doubted the whole darn thing. So I took a break. With a trip to Japan only weeks away, I set aside my writing and gave myself a crash course in Japanese history and literature. I wanted to understand what I'd be seeing on our trip. 

Did I feel guilty about not writing? Yes. Did I stop thinking of myself as a writer? Yes. Did I plan to use this as research and write something about Japan? No.

I just took a big long break.

We had a fantastic vacation in Japan. I loved being able to spend three weeks with my niece and nephew while watching my own daughters reconnect with their cousins and joke around with their aunt & uncle. None of us had our electronic devices--all that media that distracts us from each other during our regular lives. We saw amazing sites, made incredible memories, got to know local Japanese people, and bonded as a family.

I wrote in my journal every night, barely keeping my eyes open as I scribbled a hasty account of the day's sights and experiences. Travel doesn't do much to enhance my prose. I suppose I honed my observation skills as I bungled my way through such a foreign culture. Maybe...?

Sometimes it's okay just to have a good time.

Our whole motley group in Tokyo. I'm wearing a hat--just like my brother!
I opened my WIP last week. And it's not nearly as bad as I feared--before I took a nice long break.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Recharging, taking a break, and other things I'm bad at... Jenny O'Connell

I love the idea of taking a break. Or recharging. Or just avoiding what I have to do in favor of more fun things. Unfortunately I'm really bad at it. Not because I can't unplug but because I have trouble plugging back in!

I'm very much a deadline, gotta get it done type of person. In college I was the one who was up all night writing a term paper that should have been written over the course of weeks, one page at a time, so there wasn't a mad dash at the finish line. But that's not me. Even now, the only thing that gets my butt in a seat with my laptop is a deadline. I need to feel like I'm going to let someone down if I don't deliver. That's motivating to me. I need fear in order to accomplish something - fear of underdelivering, fear of not meeting obligations, fear of failure.

So the idea of taking a break - which I pretty much do every summer because it's so hard to sit inside and write when the sun is shining and my kids are home and the pool is just whispering to me, "Jenny... come out here and lounge while reading a book... enjoy yourself a little..." - is terrifying to me.

The thing is, I feel really bad about myself when I'm "on a break." I actually prefer to be typing away, finishing chapters and seeing something come to life. Being on a break is nerve-wracking because I wonder if I'll ever be able to get back into the swing of things. I need momentum. I need forward motion. I hate feeling useless. I love seeing the word count on my manuscripts go up and up.

So I find breaks to be very dangerous for me. They slow me down rather than recharge me. They make me lazy and stall my momentum. Not to say I don't love a vacation. But I love writing and finishing a book even more.