Achieving My Goal

There is nothing as satisfying as achieving a goal you’ve set for yourself, especially if that goal is one that stretches you outside of your comfort zone. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I decided to spend the month of November participating in NaNoWriMo to develop the habit of daily writing.

If I had plenty of time at home to work on my goal, reaching it would have been easier, but between going to work daily, organizing a conference, and preparing for Thanksgiving, my time has not been free and easy this month. Instead, I had to do what many writers did over the centuries.  Anthony Trollope, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and many others had to fit their writing in around their day jobs and so did I. Each morning, I wrote until my timer went off, signaling that I had to quit writing for the day and prepare for work.

I wrote about books and reading, my faith, prayer, and listening to sermons, memories of my mother and favorite authors. Despite many responsibilities, I was able to carve out moments for reflection, creativity, and turning my thoughts into words and sentences and paragraphs.

I missed one day of writing and found myself writing in my head instead. I once read that the more you express love the more it grows, and creativity is similar. The more I wrote, the itchier my fingers grew, waiting for the time to put my words on paper.

I never stop thinking, but my thought life can become stagnant when I don’t feed it or let it flow freely. Like damming a stream, you can stop up your mind until the algae forms on top and nothing can grow because the water of your mind is stagnant. On the other hand, when you let your stream of thoughts run freely, the flow brings many kinds of thoughts and ideas and words and mental images tumbling out, eager to be shared. Writing daily gave my thoughts a place to go which, in turn, allowed more thoughts to form.

Before I started, I didn’t know whether I could make the time or have the discipline to write every day this past month. Some days I didn’t want to write. If I did my writing at the start of my day, I was more likely to succeed than if I waited until later in the day when distractions abounded and my brain was overflowing with too much input.

Like regular exercise, I became used to working on a new idea each morning and began to look forward to my daily creative time. I had listed topics for possible blog posts in October, but I ended up using only half of them because the more I wrote, the more new ideas would pop up during the day that I wrote about as soon as I could find time.

November was a good month, and I plan to continue to write or at least edit every day. I hope to share the fruits of my work with you over the next several months.

Do you write every day? If so, when is your best time for writing and how do you carve out time for your creativity each day?

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Daily writing and NaNoWriMo

For the past four years I have been leading and facilitating local writers groups at the library where I work. Each November I encourage the writers to take part in NaNoWriMo, but I have never participated myself. I had multiple excuses: I write nonfiction, not novels. I am homeschooling and working so when would I find time to write?  I could never write that many words in a month. That’s for real writers not my wannabe self.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Each year hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words in November. If they succeed, they “win”. What do they win? Nothing monetary, but they will have a completed rough draft of a novel and a banner to download to their website/social media.

So why participate? There are several reasons: it’s more fun to write with others cheering you on which happens a lot during the month. It’s more likely you will sit down and write when you have made it public you are writing 50,000 words. There is nothing quite like the pressure of making a public pledge to keep you accountable. Even if you don’t achieve 50,000 words, you will still develop the discipline of writing every day.

Writing is only successful when you sit down every day and put words on the paper. Neil Gaiman said, “To be a good writer… read a lot and write every day.” A writer once commented that it takes a million words before you are a competent writer. That means if you write 1,000 words a day, it will take three years of daily writing to get the bad writing out of your system. Only then will you start to write the good stuff. But if you never start, you will never reach competency.

I cheered others on but never took part myself until I  decided to join in the fun this year. Why did I change my mind?

First, I discovered the “rebels” group. There are various group forums on the NaNoWriMo site. Groups for research, various genres, resources and support, fans, and the rebel group. The rebel group includes poets, playwrights, bloggers, nonfiction writers, and others. They set their own goals. Some want to write 50,000 words on a nonfiction project. Others want to write a poem a day for 30 days or work on their thesis or set research goals for a new book. There are as many goals as rebels, which is okay.

Since there was a group in which I would fit, I thought about joining. But what would I write? I still have far too much research to do on my book and I didn’t want to set research goals this first time out. I did, however, want to develop the discipline of writing every day, and I decided to write 30 blog post drafts in 30 days.

I won’t be posting all thirty immediately since the point of this exercise is getting a rough draft down.  However, I hope to post at least once a week, and by the end of the month, if I succeed, I will have two things: thirty blog post drafts for the future and the discipline of writing every day.

As I have been writing regularly over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that it easier to get my thoughts on paper and I have been increasingly creative. Also, it is autumn and I spend more time thinking and pondering and meditating this time of year.

To reach my goal, I’ve been rearranging my morning time customs: I am getting up earlier each morning to make time for more contemplation and prayer, more reading, and regular writing. I am spending less time on social media and the internet. I am picking up pen and journals more often. I’m attempting to spend more time with real books rather than electronic books.

I’m not against electronic books but it is too easy to get distracted when the internet is on the same device as the book. With a paper book in my hand and the internet devices in another room, I am more likely to lose myself in the story than go look up a rabbit trail topic. With a paper journal and pen, I am more likely to keep writing rather than go find the perfect word or do research on my current topic or find the exact wording of a quote I want to use.

Expect to see more regular posts from now on and also ask me how it’s going. If my friends and family know about this, hopefully they will encourage me, keep me accountable, and check in on my progress throughout the month.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? I’d love to hear about your goals and cheer you on in your writing.

Letters to Estelle

When my grandmother, Lee Estelle Wood, was 22 years old, she broke her ankle.  While that would normally be considered a painful, inconvenient event, for Estelle it was the beginning of a relationship that would last a lifetime. As she was convalescing, Estelle received a get well card from a childhood acquaintance, Victor Lawrence Doyle.  Thus began years of letters exchanged between Estelle, who lived in Baltimore, MD, and Victor, who lived in Wilmington, DE.

What made these letters special was not the contents, although those were precious to the recipients, but the envelopes.  Each envelope had a pen and ink drawing on it.  Over the years of their courtship and beyond, Victor created over 200 pieces of art on the envelopes of his letters.

The envelope below shows a picture of Estelle, waiting by the phone for Victor’s call.  In the 1930’s, when the letters were exchanged, America was in the midst of the Great Depression.  There wasn’t much money for “extras”. Phone calls were expensive and train trips were even more, which meant that most communication was in letters. By 1935, when this letter was sent, Victor and Estelle had been corresponding for over a year and were including phone calls. Their weekly “date” usually consisted of a phone call at 7:15 P.M. on Saturday evenings.  Between the letters, phone calls, and an occasional trip to Baltimore, Victor courted Estelle from 1933 until 1936.

Telephone call April 3 1935

The problem of distraction or how it seems harder to think deeply these days

 

Like so many people today, our family owns and uses computers, smart phones, tablets, and ipods.  For much of the day, an observer would notice that most or all of us is doing something with an electronic—listening to music or audio books, checking email, playing a game, writing a blog post, looking at facebook, reading an article, and so forth.  Most of those things are not a bad way to spend time necessarily but what I’ve begun to notice is that the more time I spend doing things electronically, the more distracted I become.

I have been musing about how to approach this difficulty I’m having with distraction and this week I read two articles which gave me some ideas on how to minimize or, even better, reverse some of this trend of thinking shallowly due to my continual distraction.  The first was an article on Facebook (how ironic that it would be on one of the biggest timewaster sites of them all!), 7 Skills Your Grandparents Had that You Don’t.   While some of my friends and I agreed that we do know how to do all of the things on the list (except perhaps haggling), none of us write real letters any more and we regret that loss.  The second article, Unplugging  Your Student–Focusing and Communicating in the Present, is one I read this morning about ways to help your students learn to manage the distractions in order to study more effectively.

Since I am quite sure that my increasing inability to focus on the task at hand is due, at least in part, to my increased use of electronics, these articles helped me to think about some things I can do to help to reverse this shallowness:

1. Write real letters again.  Two of my friends, who live in distant states, and I have decided to each write a letter a month to the others.  While two letters a month is not very much, it is a start, and I’m curious to see if my communication with these friends will be of a different quality via pen and paper vs. email.  I will have to slow down and think more carefully before writing with pen and paper than when I write digitally.

2. Read my “real” Bible instead of the Bible on my tablet and use my paper journal at least five times a week.  I used to copy Scripture and devotional reading as well as write prayers, lyrics to hymns, and my thoughts on my reading almost daily for many, many years but I’ve noticed that I rarely do so now that I use my Kindle Fire for my devotional time.  I suspect that fact many account for the feeling that my devotions are more shallow than they used to be.  I want to see if it makes a difference if I go back to the older style of reading and note-taking.

3. Only allowing myself to check my phone or tablet after I’ve spent a minimum of 45-50 minutes on a task, whether that be cooking dinner, ironing, reading a book, correcting papers, gardening, or working on schoolwork with my students.  By re-learning how to focus on the task at hand for a reasonable amount of time, I’m hoping to also relearn how to think more deeply than I have lately.

4.  As a companion to #3, I intend to stop checking my phone when I am with other people_–family, friends, or even standing in line at the store.  I used to talk with the people around me so much more than I do now that I can bury my face in my electronics.  Instead I need to leave my phone and tablet in my purse or in another room when I am reading with the children, playing a game, having a meal, or just relaxing on the sofa with my husband.

My plan is to start these four things immediately.  I’ll be sure to check back at the end of the summer to report how things are going.

Wednesdays with Words – June 4, 2014

This past winter I borrowed Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth via interlibrary loan.  I had to return it before I finished it and I hope to one day own it because there was so much wisdom and such a wealth of understanding and beauty in it.  One of the things that challenged my thinking was her contrasting mere fact with truth.  I was very uncomfortable with the idea of selecting some facts and omitting others and of her idea that sometimes facts can mask truth.  I know that many times the Greeks kept important events off-stage in their dramas and that sometimes truth cannot be approached directly but only out of the corner of our eyes, so to speak.  In reading Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd this week, I ran across this same idea:

We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. More worrisome are people who want to pursue the other line of argument that ‘everything is subjective.’ Well, of course, everything is subjective, once you get beyond the very barest of facts.  p. 84

 

Subjectivity simply acknowledges the presence of  a mediator between the facts and the truth.  That mediator is you, the writer.  Acknowledging subjectivity absolves you of nothing.  On the contrary, it makes you the one who has to explore the facts, discover what you can of the truth, and find the way to express that truth in prose–knowing as you look for the way to do this that you cannot be complete, that every inclusion implies countless exclusions, that you must strive to do no violence to those facts and those truths that compete for your attention. p. 85

 

Facts and truth: not only are they not synonymous, but they often have a very tangential relationship.  Although the truth must always be found in facts, some facts, sometimes obscure the truth.  Sometimes that essential effort of writing, making some things small and others big, includes making something invisible.  p. 89

 

In reading this, I was reminded of something the Apostle John wrote in his gospel:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. — John 20:30-31

John did not include every fact of every thing that Jesus said and did although he was witness to most of it and probably knew the facts of many of the things he missed.  However, he included only those facts that presented the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for our salvation.

So, I’m left with mulling over this idea of selecting facts in order to communicate truth.  Is this something we do everyday?  Is the lack of complete transparency with our facts a lie?  Or are we wise in choosing which facts to present so that we can most clearly tell the truth of a matter?

It is something to consider…