Sometimes, There Are No Words

I’m supposed to be a writer, yet I have no words for what’s happened in Las Vegas. No words to describe the horror of it, the senselessness, the depravity of hurting or killing so many innocent people.

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I can’t imagine the horror for the people that went out to enjoy a concert and didn’t come home. The pain of the families that lost mothers, fathers, sons and daughters to such senseless violence. The long road of healing ahead, both physically and mentally, for the people who were injured.

I don’t have words for any of it, and maybe there are no words.

This isn’t a political blog, so I’m not going to rehash any of the finger-pointing going on right now. It doesn’t bring back the people who died in the worst mass shooting in American history. And it doesn’t bring us together as a nation.

Interesting to note that while many of us were extremely sad and upset, no one I know was surprised. For me, Sandyhook was the final numbing agent. Each person has had their own, but at no point did I hear surprise from others or feel it myself.

After I learned the news, I took a few minutes to grieve. I tried really hard not to cry at work when I over heard others discussing what had happened and popped open Google news to see what it was.

Yeah, I’m a corporate cog, but even cogs can cry while we try really hard not to put ourselves in the people’s places who lost a friend or loved one. Or the children who lost a parent. Or the place of someone who lived while the person next to them died.

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These actually feel bigger, shinier, and more important than most of us in corporate America do.

 

And that’s it. I turned off the news. It wasn’t trying to inform me anymore. It was trying to elicit an emotional response and a page click. To keep me invested even though there really is nothing more to tell the general public.

I wish I’d done the same thing with news about the hurricanes. I did do it with the news coming out of Puerto Rico.

No, I’m not heartless, but I have no control over any of these things. I did what I could and donated to the American Red Cross through a charitable drive at work. That’s really all I can do. I have neither the skills to help nor the power to do more.

So, yes, I turned it off. I only have so much to give before I’m emotionally empty. I need to save my reserves for things I can impact. My children. My spouse. My family. My community. My writing.

Maybe this is selfish, maybe this is just self-protection. I’m not sure anymore. But I have noticed I need to do it more and more often. And when I do, I’ve discovered I’m happier, less stressed, and more creative. Not sure if it’s right or wrong, but for me, it’s what I need to do to keep my sanity.

 

How about you? How do you handle the constant bombardment of the news cycle? Do you just turn it off? If not, how do you cope with the stress and helplessness?

Where's the Obsession?

I finished up my revision over two weeks ago. Normally, I’d be plunging ahead into my next project, flush with the excitement of something new.

Except this time, the creativity isn’t coming.

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You and me both.
Reminds me of the song Where Have All the Cowboys Gone by Paula Cole, just replace Cowboys in the song with inspiration. Interesting that I’ve never been a big fan of the song. Kept trying to figure out why the singer needed a cowboy rather than making her own happily-ever-after if she wasn’t finding it from her partner. I listen to lyrics too closely, sometimes.

Still, I have several characters floating around in my head, but none of them are really meshing with a solid story or a love interest. I write Romance, so the love interest is critical.

Not sure what’s causing this. Perhaps I’m trying too hard. Or not hard enough. Or I’m feeling burned out with the book I wrote, the other I revised, and having a full time job.

Or, perhaps, I’m having a bit of a book hangover.

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I spent a lot of time with the last set of characters. Really working hard to put them on the page and bring them to life.

Normally, the way I deal with loss is move right into the next story. But it’s not working this time. The first few weeks of writing a new story is what carries me through. The excitement. The freshness of the project. The need to get the swirling maelstrom in my head onto paper.

I normally love starting a new project. The time to create. To make something out of nothing.

So far, no fabulous ideas begging to be put on paper have usurped my every waking moment. I tried reading a couple of novels for inspiration, but I couldn’t get into them either.

Not sure what’s creating this sudden lack of creativity, but it can go ahead and be on its way now. I’m ready for my next obsession.

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How about you? Ever have your creativity suddenly dry up or just lose interest in something? What did you do to rekindle the spark?

Five Things I Learned as a "Professional" Writer

I was recently fortunate enough to have three days where the kids were in daycare, and I was home from work. DH and I decided that we didn’t want the girls to completely get out of their routine over the holiday season, and he was fine with me spending these days getting some house stuff done and writing.

So, for three days, I got to spend most of my time writing. Here’s what I learned:

1. Errands Take Longer Than You Think – Among the things I needed to do during these three days were a variety of errands. I was home, so I agreed to do them all. Having no idea how long it can take to go to the bank, buy cat food, and get dinner fixings, I set out to get them done in less than an hour so I could start writing. Only to find the bank doesn’t open until nine. The pet store at ten. I learned really fast getting everything out of the way right after dropping the girls off was about as likely as finding a unicorn in my driveway holding a million dollars.

2. It’s Lonely – I am an introvert by nature, but being home alone all day really tests that. I found myself keeping iTunes on at all times, and eventually reaching out to others through Twitter. Sad, I know. But there it is.

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3. Distractions Abound – The internet is normally not much of a distraction for me, but then, I only have an hour a day to write. Easy enough to turn off distractions for that amount of time. A whole day? Suddenly, a whole lot harder.

4. Timers Need Not Apply – My first two days, I foolishly listened to advice that recommended setting timers for productivity and break time (50 minutes or so of writing followed by 10 minutes of doing stuff). This was hugely detrimental to me as I could sometimes write well over 50 minutes, and 10 minutes was sometimes too long and other times not long enough of a break period.

5. The Joy of “The Zone” – When you have carved out an hour a day to write, you guard that hour jealously and write during it no matter what. But when you have a whole day?  There is this magical zone, and once in it, you can do amazing things. No children to pull you out of it, no spouse talking about important things. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish. Or how much you can cut.

 

How about you?  You ever have a day or three just to write?  How did it work for you?

 

 

Morning Children: A Special Torment to Writers

My husband and I are both night people. We’ve learned to adjust our internal clocks to take into account work and other grown-up responsibilities. While it’s not nearly as hard to get up at 6 am now as it was when I was a teenager, I didn’t have to get up at 6 am on Saturday when I was a teen.

Our oldest child is a morning person. Always has been, and she’s never had a concept of “weekend”. We had to get her a digital clock before she was three so that we could forbid her from leaving her bedroom in the morning before her clock said 6 on it. And yes, she learned numbers early so we weren’t getting up with the sun in the summer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

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While I’ve been able to adjust myself to getting up long before a night-person should, I haven’t convinced my muse to join me.

As much as I’ve sat diligently in front of my computer during afternoon nap-time on the weekends, my muse is nowhere to be found. Sure, I can pound out a few words, but it’s not the same. Whether you write, paint, compose music, there’s this creative zone that you get into that allows you to achieve more in an hour than you can in three. There’s something magical about this time. It’s like fairy wings and unicorn farts have jumped into the mortal plane.

For me, this ultra-creative time always, always, always comes after 8 pm. Usually later, but given my current need to be up with the birds, I try to be in bed before 10:30 because 6 am comes around awfully early.

There are those days when inspiration strikes, and I seize upon it, blowing through my bedtime even though I know will pay for it in the morning. And oh do I! Nothing quite like a chipper preschooler bouncing around the house rather than getting ready for school to put your previous night’s choice into perspective.

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Of course, my preschooler isn’t making the beds, eating her breakfast, or getting ready for the day. Heck no!  These are days that she requires the most wrangling. It’s like she knows I’m struggling and chooses that time to drown me rather than throw me a rope. Because children smell weakness and will exploit it at every opportunity.

I wish I had something insightful to offer. Some way that I’ve conquered the muse and brought her to my side before the owls come out. But I haven’t. I still have to make the choice most nights as to whether I’m on a roll and have to keep going, or whether I need to be a grown-up and go to bed. I’d love to say the grown-up wins most nights…

 

How about you? Are you a morning person or a night person? Does it work for you? When do you find yourself most creative? Have you figured out how to get your muse to come on your terms?

10 Ways to Conquer Stress and Bring Back Your Creativity

We know stress kills creativity. And, given what most of experience in modern life, stress isn’t going anywhere.

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Me during the height of budgeting

So, what can we do about it? How do we tame the stress and let our muse come back from vacation to help inspire us once again?

First, I think it’s important to know what stress is. In a nutshell, stress is a physical response. Your body thinks it’s under attack and goes into fight or flight mode. Your body releases a whole bunch of hormones preparing you for physical action.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. During our hunter-gatherer days, this helped us escape from predators or defend ourselves and our tribes.

Where the issue comes is that our bodies haven’t adapted to modern life. A boss with an impossible deadline triggers the same fight or flight mode, instead of a focused calm so we can at least try to make the deadline.

What this means is that we don’t have the opportunity to burn off those stress hormones. This is what causes the jittery feelings and racing heartbeat.

So, how do we deal with it?

I’ve read a bit on this, and here is what the “experts” say:

  1. Get enough sleep – because it’s so easy to sleep when you’re already stressed
  2. Eat Well-Balance meals – Already doing this. It hasn’t helped, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt.
  3. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine – Gave up both when I was pregnant, never took up either since. Very liberating to not need that cup of coffee in the morning.
  4. Count to 10 (or 20) – This has helped me when dealing with my children, but not for the bigger things like when those children are ill.
  5. Take deep breaths – Okay…
  6. Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head. Because I totally have time for this!
  7. Learn what triggers your anxiety. – Impossible goals like trying to balance work, children, a spouse and writing.
  8. Maintain a positive attitude.
  9. Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress. – Which gets back to my time issue . . .
  10. Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way. – Clearly what some of these coping strategies are. For me, anyway.

 

I could go on, but the one thing that’s helped me the most is learning that it’s a hormonal response. These hormones need to burned off, and I’ve started doing that by walking. I try for at least a 30 minute walk at lunch, and this has helped tremendously. I burn off all my pent up stress hormones and come back to the afternoon more focused.

Sometimes, this isn’t enough, and I take a brisk walk through the halls. Other times I’ll walk out to the shop floor and back. Something to get me up, get me moving, and burn those stress hormones.

Now that I know stress is physiological in nature, it helps me deal with it.

My bigger issue is when I don’t have an outlet. It is dark when I get up in the morning, it is dark when I come home from work at night.

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This means walking before work or in the evenings is a no-go.

I’m still trying to figure something out, especially with the kids. I have a treadmill and an elliptical in our finished basement, but it’s an act of Congress to get down there. Including the negotiating, pleading, and filibustering.

What do you do to deal with stress? Any of these tips more helpful for you? Do you find it easier to burn off the stress hormones with physical activity?

Me and My Big Mouth

Ever say something you wish you could take back?

Most of us do, and this happened to me the other day. Don’t even remember where it came from, but I said I had managed to put 50,000 words on the page for a new story in a month. I figured another 10,000 words should take me to the end of the first draft (I write skeletons, remember?).

My muse heard that, because of course she did, crossed her arm over her chest and flew away.

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In case anyone’s seen mine.

I am not sure what to do to convince her to come back. Perhaps she needs me to eat a bag of oreos while trying to finish the chapter I’m working on, knowing full well I don’t like oreos.

Not sure what her demands are as she’s made herself rather scarce.

It’s not writer’s block because I can still make some headway, but it’s not the magical page devouring progress I was making.

And no, I know better than to take a break and wait for her to come back. Uh-uh. Played that game and lost more than once.

So, time to apply bottom to chair and bleed out as many words as possible.

Perhaps when she sees I’m sincere, she’ll return. If she doesn’t, I’ll scratch out the rest of the words to the ending of the story the hard way. Even with her inspiration, when it comes time to edit, there’s no easy way about it.

Magic

But if you’ve seen her, please tell her I’m sorry. I’ll shut my mouth until the book is finished, and she’s booked her vacation to Cancun while I start the revision process.

 

How about you? Have you ever lost your muse? Why? What did you do to get him/her back?

 

Balancing Act: Left Brain vs Right Brain

Life is a regular balancing act of creativity and reason. Of balancing the left and right side of the brain. (And yes, I know this has been thoroughly debunked. And here’s Neil DeGrass Tyson doing it style. Still, you get my point.)

Whether you write stories, paint, sing, do performance art, make jewelry, or arrange flowers, most humans have a creative outlet. It seems to be wired into us, and there are lots of sites out there that will tell you how important creativity is, even in business:

While I think it’s important to foster this creativity in myself and others, I don’t really know how as I never had it fostered in me. As I was growing up, creativity was something for young children. When you reached a certain age, you put your imagination behind you and focused on the important and grown-up things like math, science, and tearing apart literary books looking for meaning rather than writing your own novel.

So, I’ve had to figure out ways to coax out my own creativity, especially when I’m writing a first draft of a story.

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This first draft is when I’m making something out of nothing. Piecing together electrons on a page to tell a story. Granted, my first draft is strung together with paperclips, duct tape, and pipe cleaners, but it has brought into being something that didn’t exist before. Something ready to be engineered into a coherent story driven by the characters.

Getting that first draft onto the page is hard. I’d love to say I’ve found the magic bean that lets your fingers dance across the keyboard as worlds, characters and plot fill the screen. Man, oh man, do I wish I had that bean. Mostly, my creative process involves butt to chair as I struggle to turn off my internal editor and throw words onto the page.

If I poke at those words too much, “edit as I go”, the creativity dies and I’m back into edit mode.

The magic bean is gone.

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So what if my magic bean looks a little bit like coffee…

But, like most things, if I practice turning off that internal editor, I get better at not listening to her and better at letting thoughts become words on a page.

Eventually, a story materializes. Then comes the editing to make those paperclips and duct tape into something I’d want to read.

And there lies my issue.

I have two books written and in various states of revision. But I haven’t figured out how to turn on the editor to get those books publication ready while not losing the skill of getting words onto the page.

I recently got some great advice from an editor, but I haven’t acted on it as I know I’ll lose momentum on the story I’m currently writing. I’ll forget, as I have so many times in the past, how to let the words fill the page.

This may sound silly to you, but my magic bean is a fragile little thing.

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I’ve learned from experience how hard it is to write new stuff after setting it aside to spend time on revisions. I’ve also learned putting a story on hold to go back and revise earlier parts of that story or even revise another story altogether is a death sentence for the story in question. I simply won’t go back to writing it. Or if I do, it’ll only be after “revising” everything I’ve already written a dozen times (which will just be cut in a later true rewrite once the whole book is written).

I clearly haven’t figured this out.

But I have to find a way. I have two completed manuscripts waiting to be revised then queried to agents or self-published.

I need to find a way to squeeze this revision time in between my full-time job, family, and creation of new work.

I need to figure out a way that once the editor brain turns on, I can turn it off again so I can put new words to the page. I just don’t know how to do it yet.

 

How about you? How do you get in the zone to do your creative activity, whatever it may be? What’s lures your muse to you? What sends her running off and how do you get her back? Do you have any issues balancing your creative and analytical sides?

Each Step Counts

If you remember my post from a while back, you’ll know that my Fitbit and I have a rocky relationship. It tracks my steps, or my failure to take steps, and reports it in glorious color.

I learned very quickly that I didn’t suddenly love exercise, nor did I suddenly have an extra hour a day to exercise.

My first week of wearing the Fitbit taught me how few steps a desk jockey really takes. It then taught me that squeezing in a 20 minute walk at lunch took me from deep “F” territory (read sub 5,000) to “D” territory of around 6,000 or so steps.

I was stymied how to get more steps, so I tried adding in a few here and there whenever I could. Park in the back of the parking lot and walk in. Play “chase” with my toddler for a few minutes in the morning. Walk around the lunchroom while I’m waiting for my lunch to heat up. Walk down to someone’s office to have a chat rather than drop an e-mail.

Believe it or not, a lot of these small changes added up. I have now averaged an “A” two weeks in a row at 9,400 steps or more a day.

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Not sure if the habits will stick, but they’re working right now.

So, I started trying this approach for my writing. While it doesn’t work for hard edits or revisions, much like my few steps won’t prep me for a 5K, dropping in a few lines here and there has started to add up. I have a thought, and I quick jot it into e-mail and send it to myself. And much like with my steps, these all add up.

And they add up quickly.

Yes, it takes some time to pull these disparate thoughts together, but its something I can do when I’m not feeling creative. And I’m amazed at some off-the-cuff creativity I’ve had. It seems as if ideas are percolating more even if it’s just back in my subconscious.

I still have another few weeks of working on my new story before I turn back to tackling another revision of book two, or of book one after taking a class on learning more about the first 5 pages.

We’ll see how this writing strategy works then. For the moment, I’m going to see where it takes me.

 

How about you? How’s your relationship with your Fitbit? Have you ever found it easier to just do a little here and there? Do you have a better Fitbit strategy? A better writing strategy?

Best Game Purchase of 2015/2016

When Fallout 4 came out, DH bought it the day it was released.

I rolled my eyes when he brought it home. We have 2 small children, and the only time he could play it is on the weekends when the kids are napping or at night, after they go to bed. But he really wanted to play it.

He’s been a fan of the series since it first came out back in ye olde 90s, and he introduced it to me with Fallout 3 and later New Vegas. He played them on the PS3 that was attached to the big screen in our living room. I didn’t get his attraction to the game at first. The plot was flimsy, the characters shallow and uninteresting, and the world irredeemable.

But the longer he played, the more I got into it. It’s like your own mini-dystopia to play in. Whether you’re snooping around Cthuluesque Dunwich building, listening to holotapes of the corruption of the pre-bomb world, exploring Zetan spaceships, or kicking the tar out of the enclave, you’re free to roam and explore. And Bethesda has purposely put interesting things in all sorts of random places to get you to explore.

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Fallout 4 is much the same, and has lured us in just as Fallout 3 and New Vegas did.

The story stinks and I convinced DH not to finish it so that “we” can stay friends with the Institute, Railroad, Minutemen, and Brotherhood. Bethesda won’t give us a “perfect” ending and is trying to show how the world never gets better. People never learn. Blah, blah , blah. Or, they’re just trying to keep their franchise around . . .

Whatever. They all need me to be their rain maker, so they can all suck it and not kill each other on my watch.

There are few living plants and no trees, which DH is quick to point out is ridiculous after 200 years. Just look at Chernobyl, Nagasaki, or Hiroshima. And it hasn’t been anywhere near 200 years. Much of the science is altogether bogus, and few of the characters are more than mildly interesting.

And, of course, there are other things that keep our interest . . .

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Just freakin’ remember to take out the fusion cores before you leave.

Still, we were both super excited for the Nuka World release a couple of weeks ago. So much to do. So much to explore. Better than Far Harbor, in my opinion. And so many raiders to figure out how to back-stab while trying to do as many quests as possible before “we” turn on them. Ahhh, Fallout 4 at its best! Interesting things to see, do, and explore, but no real depth to any of them.

Getting back and forth to the Commonwealth to defend your settlements can be a bit of a pain, and you would think the settlements could protect themselves, especially after equipping all the settlers with full combat armor, grenades, energy weapons, and a boatload of turrets.

But they can’t, so back we go.

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Perhaps the most fun is making up your own characters and situations.

DH is also a writer, so we create characters in the world that are just our own. Filling them in with backstories and other interesting bits. Perhaps the Sole Survivor comes across them, perhaps not, but the world of Fallout is rich and gives a fertile playground for the imagination.

It’s also fun because we both have favorite factions, and they’re not the same. I am torn between the Brotherhood I want them to be (like under Lyons) and the Institute with my much more ethical Sole Survivor in charge. (Shaun, what happened to you?!?)

Whereas DH swings hard towards he Minutemen and to a lesser extent, the Railroad.

So while the game is less than perfect, it is a fun playground for our imaginations. That, alone, is worth what we spent on the game and the DLC pass.

 

How about you? Have you played any of the Fallout Games? Did you like them? Hate them? Play any other fabulous games lately? What did you like about those?

Stress and Creativity

I came across some interesting articles recently about the effect of stress on creativity.

This one, from the American Psychological association, pertains more to grad students, but many of us who work full time and try to fit in writing, family, and whatever else we do have a similar stress load. Even if you don’t, there could be other equally stressing factors.

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Most days feel about like this, but I don’t look so graceful or poised.

 

One from Forbes talking about the effect on creativity and competitiveness at work.

There are quite a few more as it appears this is an area of study, many of which are scientific enough that I have to get out my Six Sigma stuff to understand the statistical analysis.

But this brings me to my point: the scientific community knows that stress kills creativity. While the brain is expending resources on the lower order functions in a fight or flight response to keep us alive, it’s not giving much of anything to higher order functions like creativity.

Makes sense. Your brain doesn’t really differentiate from the stress caused by a lion attack and the stress caused by an impractical deadline at work. So your brain is going to “save” you from the “lion”.

I have been on this fight or flight roller-coaster since early May.

At that time, we learned DD2 was developmentally delayed, and we’ve had to spend a lot of time and money to figure out why and then start her treatment. As part of her treatment, I learned quickly that the medical profession in my area expects you to either be a stay-at-home mom or miss lots of work as there’s no such thing as early morning, night, or weekend appointments. Not even Friday appointments in the summer, as it turns out.

We then got to experience first-hand the joys of insurance denying everything, even things they had told us previously they would cover. Lots of stress fighting them and mostly losing.

About 3 days after my daughter was diagnosed, I was asked to start a massive cost-benefit analysis of shutting down a plant that has been around since 1946. Had to be done completely in secret. So lots of sneaking around and asking weird questions with made-up reasons. The analysis confirmed what the executives expected, the announcement was made, and now I face the constant daily stress of working through the plant closure and reporting out on it.

So, yeah, no wonder my creativity dried up in May and hasn’t really returned.

I need to find a better way to deal with the stress than I have been, but I’ve yet to figure it out.