5 Ways to Balance Your Work Life and Writing Life

a stack of rocks balanced on the beachMost of us find it difficult to find and maintain balance between all the different parts of our lives. I often feel like one of those people spinning plates on every body part, including my nose and forehead. But really, finding the happy place in between everything (along with bourbon on ice) is the best way to stay sane in an increasingly insane world where nothing ever stops and “quiet” is quickly becoming an extinct word. So here are a few things I do to get there, stay there, and be happy:

  1. Think Ahead. I have a general idea of what my schedule is going to look like from one week to the next. So every week, I make a list of things I want to get done, and then look at when I can do them. Yes, people say ‘write every day’. I call bullshit. Sometimes, that’s just not possible. I already get up before 6am to get to work, which means I’m not getting up any earlier, and I have to be in bed at a decent hour in order to get up for said job, so staying up late isn’t an option either. So I work with my awake time. I know that I’ll be at work during certain hours of the day, so really, I’m just looking for the pockets. Maybe during my lunch break I can close my office door and read or write something. Or maybe when I get home. And yes, there are some days, when I’m planning to have dinner with a friend, or see a movie, that there probably won’t be time to write. So I don’t plan to. That way, I don’t have to beat myself up about it when I don’t. I prefer to think ahead, see where my opportunities are, and use them to my advantage.
  1. Go Easy on Myself. I’m a master at self-loathing. If I can find a reason I did something wrong, I’ll obsess about it without end. I’m still obsessing about that time I got in trouble in middle school science class for mumbling that an assignment was stupid and got yelled at by the teacher. She was a bitch, but still. I beat myself up every time I walk past a homeless person and don’t give them a dollar. Whenever I stick my foot in my mouth (which is often). So if I can beat myself up for not writing and being unproductive, you bet I will. But I’ve learned that there is always tomorrow. Writing is kind of like being an alcoholic. Every day is a struggle to do something (or not do something). Some days you succeed, some days you don’t. But the important part is to start each day anew. Don’t worry about yesterday’s failures.
  1. Keep a Time Journal. When I didn’t know where my time was going, I started to keep track of it. I’d just write down hour by hour what I did. if you did this, you may find that it takes a lot longer to pay bills than you would have thought. I found that Facebook, TV, talking on the phone, and other activities that don’t seem to occupy space actually occupy a lot of space. I learned to see how to move those around, cut them down, or just pay better attention. I’m not decreeing that you kill your TV and delete your Facebook account (let’s not get crazy, now). Just understand what you’re doing so you’re aware.
  1. Celebrate. When I have a good day, or a streak of good days, I celebrate it. Maybe that means a nice refreshing cocktail and a few episodes of whatever I’m binge-watching (my favorite ritual). Maybe it means dinner with someone special. For you, maybe it’s a gold star on an amazing and intricate chart that you made when you probably should have been writing. But celebrate wins! (And if you did make that stupid chart, use it!) It feels good to win, and winning makes us work harder. It becomes a beautiful cycle where you have a routine of work, writing, fun, work, writing, fun. The last two are my favorites.
  1. Step Away. Sometimes, it’s not about balance, but about escape. I’m not afraid to get away from everything once in a while. Take a little vacation, be it a week in Bora Bora or a weekend on your couch doing nothing (it’s the latter for me, since I’m a broke schmuck). I take time to forget about work, writing, and anything else that stresses me out. Give my body, brain, and spirit some time to recharge, refresh, and refill, so I can dive back in with new gusto when the time comes.

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

Harnessing the Power of Six-Word Memoirs

a lit fire in a fireplace with hearthSix years ago, I lost my job right around the same time I became an empty nester. Adrift without direction and needing inspiration, I decided to sign up for the TedX San Diego conference.  I was surprised to learn there was an application form to be turned in before being accepted as a participant.  Among the thought provoking questions was a requirement to write a six-word memoir. We would use these six-word memoirs as talking points with other participants. That gave me pause. It had been years since I had written and shared my writing with others. Could I even write a six-word memoir?

It turned out to be a powerful exercise, requiring me to discern what had been the most important and interesting theme or themes in my life thus far and pointing to what I knew best.  

After much debate, I settled on this:  Smoking-gun girl cooks from the hearth.

I hoped to stimulate conversation:  Why Smoking-gun girl? What’s important about cooking? Why the word “hearth?”

I had a reputation for being a “finder,” earning me the nickname, “Smoking-gun girl,” and I liked this about myself.  I was inherently tenacious and knew whether I was seeking a critical piece of evidence, the perfect family vacation, or enlightenment, I was going to keep at it, paying attention to patterns and ferreting out the keystone.  

I had also developed a passion for cooking—not gourmet cooking, mind you, but something closer to peasant cooking.  I made endless variations of stone soup and relished the sensual art of hand chopping ingredients and melding them together. To me the hearth was symbolic of gathering together and nourishing each other with good food and good stories.

This six-word memoir pleased me and, in fact, helped me shape the next phase of my life.  Most importantly, it got me writing again. At that TedX conference, as I was sharing my six-word memoir with others, my adrift and unfocused self suddenly saw a simple next step: I would start a cooking and storytelling blog. I wanted to use my favorite recipes as a springboard from which to tell stories.  My blog would be my cyber hearth.  

I revisit the idea of the six-word memoir from time to time. I still find it to be a powerful focusing exercise for my writing. A few years ago I was a “Zen Tantrika Witch Casting Writing Spells.” These days I am more of a “Devoted Rock-climbing Dakini Cooking Up Stories.”  

I hope you’ll track me down and ask me about it.  And if you do, I’m going to return the favor and ask you:  What is your six-word memoir?  Please, do tell!

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/1896745/

 

Letting Go, in Writing and in Life

A buddha statue behind lotus flowersI swore to myself I’d get my manuscript done in 2017. It didn’t happen. I could talk for hours about all the legitimate reasons it didn’t happen. I could talk for even longer about all the ways I procrastinated and avoided it. Does it make logical sense why I chose to avoid something I care about so much? Yes and no. It would take thousands of words and hundreds of dollars in therapist fees to explain it.

Focusing on 2018, I was determined. It helped that I landed a full-time job that starts at the end of February. It also helped that based on some personal circumstances, I realized the manuscript needed to be finished. It was now or never.

My manuscript is a memoir. It’s based on my journey through the fertility process. It details a year and a half of my mid-30’s, where the life I’d imagined for myself faded to black. I had been pregnant with twins. But five days after I became pregnant, I lost my mother to cancer after a lifetime of addiction. The following week, I lost the twins. And nine months later, as I twisted the sterile bed sheets in my hands, I listened to my doctor tell me I would never be able to have children.

It’s a survival story about losing a past and a future at that same time—and learning to carve out a present much different than the one I expected for myself. Those were dark days. The harder I held on to the life I thought I should be leading, the more painful everything else was. But as soon as I pushed off from the ledge, trusting that whatever I fell into was going to be okay, I was free.

It’s about learning to let go.

After such loss, it’s hard not to build up callouses of control again. They start innocently enough with the little things. A set of activities, a diet to follow, a daily routine. But as time passes, it becomes less of a routine and more of a schedule. The control creeps in a bit more, and it morphs your discipline into fear.

Writing is not so different.

Let’s say you’re starting a new project and you’re not quite sure what it is yet. If you’re not a “pantser” then you want to start with a rough outline. Just a general overview of what you want to write.

It’s easier to write around things. You can write extraordinarily detailed outlines with plot points and character arcs and detailed scenery. You can research and read for hours about how other writers have worked through their pieces, look at maps on structure and complete case studies of manuscripts that you love.

You can build the most beautiful scaffolding to support the building of your dream word house. All of this to try and control your fear of sitting down in front of a project with zero words written.  But at one point, you need rip down the scaffolding. You need to hang by your fingertips, in all the discomfort, in all of the pain, in all of the not knowing and write just what you see right in front of your face. You need to let go.

Writing does not like to be controlled. So despite your disciplined character sketches and your sweeping vistas of scene setting, your outline that you’ve so carefully crafted, it does what it wants.

When your writing is shoved into a narrow hallway, it will read that way. Your characters will seem like they’re tight and brittle and they’ll move through your carefully constructed scenes as if they were made out of matchsticks.

If you’re working on memoir or non-fiction, your readers will see right through your efforts of control. To quote Natalie Goldberg’s Rules of Writing, “Go for the real stuff. If you don’t, your writing will be tiptoeing nervously around whatever your real stuff is. You won’t believe it and neither will your readers.”

Whether you’re writing a first draft, editing, or putting on the final touches, it’s important to let go. Get words on a page, kill your darlings, do whatever you need to do to move your writing forward.

I realized that to finish the manuscript, the lesson for me is no different than it was in my mid-30’s—I need to let go. As Buddha once said, “You only lose what you cling to.”

Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash

 

5 Ways to Get Words on the Page

a keyboard with the word "create" on one of the keysSometimes putting words on the page feels impossible. Like “I’m going to make out with Chris Pine” impossible. No idea why a kick in the ass is necessary, but the sad truth is, for some reason I need to get psyched up to do something I love doing. Despite this mysterious quirk, I try to employ a few techniques to get my fingers rolling:

  1. Outline, outline, outline. One of the most difficult things to overcome is the feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but no dice. So I write a basic outline. Then I flesh it out a bit. Then I write a treatment (similar to a movie treatment) where I write it as a sort of story: Mike goes to the dentist and finds out he needs a root canal, but doesn’t have the money to pay for it. He argues with the dentist and they fight until the dentist knocks his tooth out anyway…. You get the idea. Then I know what I’m going to be writing, and the story is just needing the magic of the right words. I won’t be facing the page wondering what to write about, since I already have that figured out.
  1. Only write things that I am passionate about. If I don’t find myself working story problems out while driving to work in the morning, or staying up late thinking of the story line, this probably isn’t the project for me. I have to eat, sleep and breathe it. Writing is fucking hard. Writing a story that I only kinda sorta think is fun is not going to make it easier. And that obsession is what gets me to the computer every time.
  1. Don’t make a big deal out of it. My writing that is. They’re just words, after all. I love to pretend I’m being profound, but yes, even my words are just words. The world isn’t going to change, whether everyone or no one reads my work. So I grow a pair and go ahead and have the courage to write something, even if it doesn’t live up to my standards in the end. It’s not time wasted, it’s experience earned.
  1. Start small. It’s great to have goals like “I will write a novel.” Great. Wonderful. But then I sit down at my laptop and think “Fuck, a novel? That’s like, 100,000 words!” So I just start with something like, I’m going to write 500 words. Or I’m going to finish this chapter. There was a time when things got really tough for me. I was about two-thirds of the way through my first novel, and it just felt like it was impossible. Like, “I’m gonna hook up with Live Schreiber” impossible. I was never going to finish, it was too hard, I was a failure. Sure, I wallowed in bourbon and self-pity for a while, and then I got over it. I made my goals smaller. Write one paragraph. Still too difficult. Write one sentence. Most days that worked, but some days, I had to tell myself to just write one word. I can write one word. One. Shitty. Word. And I did. But the truth is, it was just getting to the computer with the attitude of “I can”. I never ended up writing just one word. Because one word leads to another and another, and that one word led me to write closer to 1000, and I eventually finished the book. One word at a time.
  1. I got a productivity app to help. I have tried a few, and the one I really have found success with is Productivity Challenge. You put your projects in, then start working. It times your work sessions, and it also tracks your work sessions so you can see what your work habits are on a larger scale. I tend to work more on the weekends, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. But what is surprising is how much the time adds up, even during the week when I may only get one session in per day (if I’m lucky). It’s also got some obnoxious bells to remind me to work, but I need that. Lastly, it ranks me (not against others, but against myself). Right now I’m a “Persistent Slacker”, but hopefully with some more work sessions under my belt, I’ll move up. I’m motivated by spite, and when someone calls me a slacker, it lights a fire. Feedback loops don’t work for everyone, but they work for me.

One day, maybe I’ll find that magic bullet that will make words just appear on the page without having to put forth an effort, but until then, I’ll use these regular bullets instead.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/3026190/

The Unporridging

a whisk mixing porridgeI’m working on a newish project. I’ve got characters, most of a plot, and a few dozen thousand words down. It’s enough to hang onto and wrestle with, and oh God is it better than the blankness of waiting for a new idea.

But it’s not fully there. I want to fall in love with this book, and I haven’t yet, not the way I loved my last project. This one has been sticky, lumpy, and gray.

Porridgy.

This month I’ve sorted out a lot of that. I could be wildly wrong (I’ve been wrong about this before), but I think I’ve found tweaks to make this a book I’m excited about.

In case you too are facing porridge where you hoped for transcendence, I will list some things helping me find the spark.

Characters I Love

Here’s what makes a character pop: A desire and a goal. Unacknowledged needs at odds with that goal. A default strategy for dealing with the world. A lesson and an arc. Vulnerabilities. And at least one pretty impressive skill.

I’d been missing the skill and I knew it, but I’ve finally (hopefully) pinned it down. That and a haziness of goal (isn’t it always a haziness of goal?) were making my protagonist lumpish.

A Vision of Plot

I found this list of novel plots online, and, guys, oh my gosh. Lists of plots are almost never as inspiring as I want them to be, but this was amazing. Picking my story off that list reminded me where I needed to focus my conflict. It reminded me why I’m writing the damned thing.

Stakes and Scale

As a writer and reader, I like intimate stakes and close relationships. I’m drawn to situations that arise when characters know each other well.

That’s a wonderful element in a story. It is not a whole story.

Think of it this way. You know the musical Hamilton? It has a really great love triangle. Really great. Sympathetic, nuanced, interesting, with a deft use of I-understand-you moments I haven’t seen elsewhere.

If you kept the Hamilton love triangle but removed the politics, the music, the cultural context, the commentary on race, the American Revolution, the building a new government, the deaths, the rivalry, and the duel, you would get the mushy porridge I keep ending up with.

You don’t literally need a war. But you need a wider world, even if it’s background. You need institutional forces, social upheavals, cataclysmic events, or just the eternal uncertainty of huge things shifting beyond our control. Otherwise, your stakes will be things like “if Jane doesn’t get what she wants, Jane will be unhappy.”

Porridge.

Villainy and Power

I’ve got this thing about evil villains. I find them desperately boring.

Just like with the stakes stuff, this causes trouble. I keep writing conflicts between equals who are basically nice people. Nothing escalates.

So this month, I re-read Harry Potter. (Bonus unporridging advice: read books that do well at things you do poorly.) I find Voldemort fine, if a little generic, but the terror he sows opens up room for a huge cast of more interesting characters to scramble to survive. Everything great about those books happens in the drama-charged space Voldemort creates.

Here’s my theory: I suspect the essence of a good villain isn’t evil, it’s power.

Remember: power is what turns a doddering, racist, raging, incompetent old man from somebody’s obnoxious uncle into an object of terror for (I suspect) most people currently reading this. Even with a villain a lot (a lot) more sympathetic than our forty-fifth president, a goal contrary to your protagonist’s needs combined with the power to hurt your protagonist will make them terrifying. Suddenly the world has structure, and the conflict has stakes.

Use that.

*

Implementing solutions is always way harder than brainstorming them, and I may come back next month still with a book full of porridge. Hopefully not. I’m hoping some of these revelations help me, and maybe help you too.

Good luck!

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com.porridge

 

The Problem with Rushing

people rushing on a crosswalkI moved to Los Angeles when I was barely eighteen after living in a town where my high school was within walking distance. This, of course, meant that I didn’t have much driving experience before I arrived in a city infamous for its traffic, road rage, and expansive grid system which tapers off into narrow, winding, steep hills. Needless to say, that first year wasn’t pretty. While I surprisingly managed to avoid any accidents, I did not avoid adopting the following habits:

  1. Tailing cars on the freeway, whether the traffic is moving or not.
  2. Changing lanes without a blinker since using it only signals to the car behind you to speed up so you can’t get over.
  3. Speeding up whenever there’s a pocket of traffic-less road, and,
  4. Since clear roads are about as common as flying pigs, how to rush.

I’ve become that person I was warned about. The one who everyone makes fun of at parties when they say, “she’s fashionably late.” But guess what? I can tell you from many years of experience, that there’s nothing fashionable about being late. My version of fashionably late is not a laissez-faire, get-there-when-I-get-there affair. It is an oh-no-I’m-late-get-me-there-now ordeal that spins me into a fight-or-flight, grip the steering wheel, and internalize road rage state of being.

I no longer live in Los Angeles. And yet, yesterday I was in the car—white-knuckle grip on the wheel, perched forward as if ready to pounce on the car in front of me, which I was inching closer and closer to by the second—and it occurred to me that I was rushing for absolutely no reason. I had plenty of time to get where I was going, but the mere action of driving was sending me off into that fight-or-flight, post-apocalyptic, every-woman-for-herself mode.

Why? I asked myself. Why are you stressing out when you know you’re going to get where you need to go eventually?

And while the answer was, I don’t know, it did spark an epiphany: that driving was not the only time I do this. I also do it when I write.

I’m very goal-oriented, which means I’m also a little deadline obsessed. I love setting deadlines for finishing outlines, chapters, drafts—you name it. It feels great to meet them and also gives me a sense of purpose when writing, but, as I mentioned in a previous blog post (Play to Your Edge: Maintaining a Writing Routine), it can also deflate me. When I get busy or when I get writer’s block, my deadlines come and go, and I’m left scrambling to make new ones. Or, worse, I rush the words out just to meet the deadline, which ends up setting me further back because I write myself into a hole or I’m not fully entrenching myself into the scene where I discover all sorts of lovely world-building and character moments.

To be clear, no writing is a waste of time. But rushing affects the quality of my words and also the quality of my life. So while I still think deadlines are important—as well as being punctual—no deadline or event or job interview is worth the cost of rushing.

I am still working on this one myself, being mindful of how I drive, write, and move through my day. But once you’re aware, you will notice those small cues—increased heart rate, constricting chest, clenched teeth—which mean you need to step on the brakes. Because once you do, everything you want to accomplish will be waiting there, ready to be worked on, ready to be finished—within a reasonable timeframe, of course.

Melissa Bloom is a writer, writing coach, and certified yoga instructor who is passionate about exploring the connection between productivity and wellness. As the founder and director of the Mindful Writer, Melissa has developed targeted writing tools and techniques that help people develop a sustainable writing practice to accomplish their writing goals without burning out. Melissa has a background in film, animation, and creative writing. She travels often, learns daily, and attends workshops, trainings, and conferences in a continued effort to hone the crafts of writing and living well.

Photo by mauro mora on Unsplash

The Greatest Writing Opportunity of the Year is Here!

a stack of holiday cardsWriters take heed: The time is upon us.  After a busy year of great excuses for why we haven’t been writing much, at last, the mother lode writing opportunity (including a captive audience) presents itself—clear, unpretentious, a ghost of past, present and future reaching out a scrawny finger, beckoning:  Come. It’s time.

Perhaps you are squirming in your seat right now because you know what is being requested.  And, deep down in your soul, despite the Scrooge-like withholding of writing this year, you know you are up for the task: the thematic weaving of this year’s good and bad, the drawing from events of the past year to arrive at the present, the happy messages of goodwill for the future—in other words: the annual holiday letter.

Yes. That’s right. The dreaded annual holiday letter, my writing friends, is in fact an optimal opportunity to practice your writing skills.

Think of it as a writing prompt that starts with “This was a year of . . .“

And then use it to hone your skills, to search for a theme for the year, to synthesize disparate events, and to show rather than tell your family and friends what your life has been like by including little scenes from the year.  Practice finding your voice.  Is your letter snarky, self-deprecating, or philosophical?

Allow your holiday letter to be the forum by which you communicate what you have discovered this year, what lessons you have learned, and what you wish for others.

So, throw off the chains holding you back.  See that your future writing self is in fact generous with words and loves to use them to reach out and connect—to lift up and inspire the Tiny Tims among us.

Friends, it’s time.  As we end one year and begin another, go forth and cast your writing spells.

I’ll leave you with the opening line of my own holiday letter:

This was a year of climbing up formidable rock walls and leaping off metaphorical cliffs, of ending, beginnings, challenges and some notable peak experiences.

 

Photo Credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Writing Full Time—Living the Dream? By Danielle Baldwin, the Newest Feisty Writer

A Smith-Corona typewriter

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.

The Author, a lovely brunette, smiling

After spending twenty years in the corporate world, Danielle is transitioning into a more creative life, which alternately exhilarates and terrifies her. She spends her days working within the San Diego writing community and is honored to be the president of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association. Danielle received her B.A. in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University and is currently working on her revisions to her memoir and blogging at her site at daniellebbaldwin.

PHOTO CREDIT: https://pixabay.com and Danielle Baldwin

Wabi Sabi Writer, Wabi Sabi Life

A meme that says A beautiful thing is never perfectIn college, I was a straight A student who once took a class “pass/fail” to give myself a break. Turns out I didn’t know how to relax my effort and ended up getting an A anyway—though that only showed up as “pass” and I suffered in the process. At the time, though, I thought perfection was an admirable goal. I patted myself on the back for it.  

Then I lived more of my life and learned something valuable.

Although still conditioned to strive for perfection, I’ve come to appreciate the haphazard, the imperfect, and the uncontrollable.  I see that at the untidy edges of life, passion escapes its shackles and truth is revealed. Messy, incomplete, and broken are beautiful, too.

The other day, I was cleaning my office, trying to create order once again. The recycling bin had overflowed, and the piles, stacked everywhere—comprised of random bills, things to remember, upcoming events, and business notes—no longer made sense. I sighed, thinking it was a disaster.

However, as I sorted the papers into keep and throw away piles, I came across all kinds of random thoughts jotted down and forgotten. My writings were on scraps of paper, half-written spiral notebooks, and yellow note pads, interspersed among “to do” lists, travel itineraries, and business documents. These random introspective thoughts perfectly reflected my experience of late—haphazard, messy, and unfocused, but unexpectedly poignant. It was as if, in the periphery of my hectic life, there was a part of me reading between the lines, noticing the beauty, enlivened by life and appreciating it.

On one scrap of paper I had written:

“Out of the corner of my eye, I see the truth . . . that life is good, that existence itself is a miracle. I sense the glory often—but too often I see life face on. I see the content of life. I see suffering. And suffering comes from the weaving of sad stories—stories that weave webs of fear and loneliness.

Just today a friend of mine was struggling, unable to see anything but a broken arm and a broken car. She said she’d been up all night, stuck in the loneliness of the wee hours in a blackness that felt bleak, not deep. I know that place too.

 I want to enfold her in my arms—to tell her everything is okay; nothing is wrong. That life is a rich tapestry and that she is an integral part of that.

Soften your gaze I want to say. This too shall pass. And, while I may not have arms big enough to enfold all of suffering, Life does.

Just out of the corner of my eye, I can see the truth, can you?

Another note said:

My life—all of it: spiritual worldview, material worldview, being happy, being stuck—is my practice. There is no part of my life that is not an opportunity. Of course, I have known this intellectually, but it hit me viscerally this morning on my walk.

Another, referencing a Japanese worldview centered on the art of imperfection, said more simply,

I am Wabi Sabi, and that’s okay.”

Life itself, I reflect, now—like my office, like my random thoughts, like the tree growing crookedly between other trees—is Wabi Sabi perfect, just as it is.

As a writer, this understanding has freed me. I’ve gently let go of the student constantly striving for an ‘A’ in a pass/fail setting—the perfectionist holding my writing hostage. I now throw all kinds of ideas down on bits and scraps of paper.  I capture random moments and insights. Some I use, others I don’t. Sometimes, wildly disparate ideas from different times and places and different scraps of paper find themselves together in an article.  

Truthfully, I am never sure where the inspiration comes from, but I appreciate that it is the messy edges of life that pulse with vitality—and that is what I want to write about.

I am a Wabi Sabi writer writing about Wabi Sabi life.

Photo Credit: pics.onsizzle.com, 6593552.png

5 Apps to Keep You Accountable

computer screen with apps lined up at the bottomIt seems like every day someone is complaining about too much technology in our lives. I get it. But the truth is, it’s here to stay, and I for one welcome our Robot Overlords. I can be welcoming, though, because I’ve discovered a few things that can help me reach my goals. Bonus: All of these apps are free (Yes, I’m a cheapskate.).

  1. Todoist

Basically, it’s a running to-do list (and you know how I love lists). You can set it to have recurring items pop up, whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly. You cross things off as they get accomplished, and it even sends you feedback with information on how many things you’ve completed. It also gives you ‘karma points’ for finishing tasks, which isn’t really anything except feeling good when you read that you completed 5638 tasks since January and seeing a graph that steadily rises as you complete even more. Super easy to use. I swear by it.

  1. Pomodoro/Clockwork Tomato

I’ve used this to track my writing time. It’s pretty cool. It times you in 25-minute increments, with five minute breaks, and after two cycles of that, it puts you through a one-hour work mode, with a 15-minute break after. It’s amazing how quickly two hours fly by when using this. I’m personally motivated by the ticking clock since I can then push myself to finish before the buzzer, or at least write ten more words.

  1. Productivity Challenge

This is very similar to the Pomodoro app, but it has a few more features. It is loud and obnoxious, but I like that. It’s almost like my phone is chewing me out when I just sit there instead of doing something. Once I opened the app but wasn’t ready to sit down and write, so I just left it there. After about three minutes, it started buzzing at me to get going or get out. You bet I sat down and got going! It also has achievements built in—I am currently listed as a ‘persistent slacker,’ which is a rung above an ‘unrepentant slacker.’ I’m determined to find out what the next rung up is, so it motivates me to keep working. It also keeps stats for how long you work, which days you work, and so on, which is good information for when you’re trying to figure out what works best for your schedule. It also has a nice visual design, so I like that.

  1. Writeometer

This can keep track of your word count. I am motivated by word count, so this is nice for me. I like to see that it doesn’t take long to put 500 words down and see how each session builds to a truly massive word count. It also reminds me daily of how many words I need to write to finish by whatever deadline I have. It’s a lot more polite than the Productivity Challenge, but I need a little softness to go with the tough love.

  1. Evernote

This is a must have. It did take some getting used to, but I’ve come to realize that the amazing idea I had at two in the morning is not going to be there come morning. So I can just jot it down here and then roll over and start snoring again. Sometimes I surprise myself with the things I’ve loaded into Evernote. A few months ago, I discovered that at some point I’d had several ideas for children’s books. And truly, most of them were actually workable. Jackpot! I keep separate lists, which includes brainstorming for various projects, blog ideas, book/script titles, interesting articles, and so on. And since I never go anywhere (on purpose) without my phone, what looks like me being cool and checking my Facebook or texting like a popular kid is actually me nerding out on my newest nerdery, which is probably some nerdy book. Suck it, cool kids.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Sabri Tuzcu on Unsplash