Travel is a wonderful way to stumble upon inspiration for a creative project. Whether it’s a trip down the block or around the world, seeing something for the first time or from a new perspective or angle can spark new ideas or break down a creative block. I feel blessed to have had the ability to spend a few days in Paris this past week for a bucket list trip. The trip was not literary motivated (though it did include a trip to the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore) but I returned with plenty of moments, scenes, images, tastes, smells, and sounds to place in my inspiration bank for a future day. Below are some of my favorite images from the trip. Maybe they’ll ignite a spark of inspiration for you! :)
A blog post in February might be a little late to talk about goals and resolutions for a New Year. But the end of January, inching to early February, also tends to be the time when conversations go from “what are your resolutions” to “are you sticking to your resolutions?”
I’ve tried the New Year’s resolution thing and like many others, have failed the New Year’s resolution thing. It took a long time for me to realize that when I set specific resolutions, that were almost always infused with sky high expectations, I set myself up for failure. For me, setting resolutions that were too specific and too sky high was a recipe for disaster. I put so much pressure on myself to hit each goal with perfect precision. If I missed the goal by the slightest of inches, I then felt like a complete failure. That feeling of failure kept me from feeling confident and with that lack of confidence, I’d convince myself there was no point in trying again and I’d abandon my resolution altogether.
Now I understand that cycle I’ve found myself in is driven by my need for perfection. In the past year, I’ve come to terms with my perfectionist identity and I try to use this knowledge to think about goal setting in different ways so that I can succeed.
For 2019, I decided to set goal buckets, rather than specific resolutions. My three buckets are:
The objective is to do something each day to add to at least one of these buckets. If I do that, then I have succeeded for the day.
Sounds easy, right?
I purchased a blank notebook (see photo below) to set aspirations for the week. Each day, I fill in the boxes with what I’ve done to add to my goal buckets. I might add, “revised manuscript” (creative health bucket) or “meditated for 5 minutes” (mental health bucket) or “went to doctor” (physical health bucket).
The bucket approach allows me to work towards goals that are important and provides me with a wider range to succeed. The more I add to these buckets each day, each week, the more I know I’m working towards my goals and the better I feel. When I don’t add to the bucket in a given day, I don’t spiral into the self destruction cycle that would derail me from previous resolutions because I have a visual log of all the other times I’ve succeed. I’m putting in the work and I have the proof on the pages.
I also like this particular journal format because of the task categories “Need to Do”, “Love to Do” and “Hope to Do.” I prioritize what I want to work on each week according to these buckets and feel oh so satisfied each time I get to cross something off the list.
However you call it, goals or resolutions, setting and working towards them is an individual practice. Not every strategy will work for everyone. I needed to figure out what didn’t work for me, in order to figure out what did. Now that I have, I’m feeling more confident about achieving what I set out to do at the beginning of 2019.
Are you a goal setter? A resolution maven? How do you set goals and work towards them?
The older I get, the easier it is to stick with doing what is comfortable. Go to work. Come home. Eat dinner. Settle in on the couch with a cat on my feet. Binge Netflix. Go to bed. Repeat.
Don’t get me wrong, some days, I need self love in the form of comfort and routine and the ability to slink into my couch until it’s time to slip into bed. But doing what’s comfortable across many days turned into doing what’s comfortable over many weeks, which turned into months and then into years… you can see where I’m going with this. Comfort kept me stagnant.
Earlier this year I was forced to reflect on my preference for comfort and my risk adverse tendencies. I realized, with some help, staying in the comfort zone and avoiding vulnerability and risk kept me from doing things aligned with my values and that prevented me from living a fulfilling life.
Moral of the story: when doing what’s comfortable and avoiding vulnerability, sure, there’s no risk, but there’s no reward, either.
One of the values that makes me feel alive and fulfilled is creativity. Creativity also happened to be the value receiving the least amount of my attention. I made a pledge to make time for creativity and to take more creative risks for the remainder of the year.
In December of 2017, I joined SCBWI on a whim, but I limited my involvement to message board lurking and quiet participation at the local shop talks. This spring, with encouragement from one of the regional advisers, I mustered the courage to attend my first conference (on humor, of all things). My anxiety was at red alert; I had no friends to cluster with and I didn’t (and still don’t) consider myself particularly funny. But I had a pledge to uphold so I clicked submit on the registration button and showed up at the conference, despite the protests coming from my mind and body. Making small talk with strangers? So. Uncomfortable. Being in the same space as published authors? Hello imposter syndrome. But I did it. I didn’t walk away with a new best friend, but I did find a couple women who welcomed me into their group for the day (and for that I am very grateful).
Aside from a rich day of learning, attendees of the conference received the opportunity to query the keynotes (who also happened to be laugh inducing editors). For a newbie with wide eyes and dreams of being published, I couldn’t pass on an opportunity to get my work in front of an editor. Problem was, I had one manuscript to my name and no one had read it except for me, my husband, my mom, my dad and my sister.
Another opportunity to choose vulnerability and risk over comfort materialized: I could choose comfort and avoid the fear of having my feelings hurt by not showing my work to anyone else for critique, or I could choose to be vulnerable and get feedback from someone who could help me make my manuscript better so that I could query the editor.
I chose vulnerability and I was terrified. But I knew I had to put my best foot forward and in order to do that, I needed to get someone in the industry to provide feedback on my manuscript. I waited for the response from the critique with sweaty fingers and heart palpitations. When it finally arrived I clicked the email with one eye shut. What did I find? Vile insults spat at me through my computer screen? Confirmation that my work is crap and I have no talent and should just give up now? No. What I received was helpful critique that enabled me to make my manuscript better so that I could feel confident putting my query and creative soul into the world.
Had I not made the decision to be vulnerable and allow myself to be the newbie who didn’t know anyone at the conference, I would not have had the opportunity to query my first editor.
And once I ripped off the first-ever-query bandaid … well, I’m not going to say I was injected with confidence serum and now I can do anything. But I did get reassurance that I am capable of being vulnerable and taking risks. I can put myself out there and I can be uncomfortable (and know that sometimes being uncomfortable is 100% okay).
Timely enough, I’m reading “Dare to Lead” by one of my favorite authors, Brené Brown. The first chapter of her newest book speaks to vulnerability and this quote (page 43) sums up my reflections from this past year:
To foreclose on vulnerability and our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to life.”
- Brené Brown, “Dare to Lead”
This year, I’ve sent my work out to be rejected (or accepted) five times. It may not sound like much, but for me, those five queries represent personal growth and investment in myself and my love for writing. They represent my choice to be vulnerable so that I can find purpose, fulfillment in (and meaning to) my life.
Most of my days still start the same as before. Go to work. Come home. Eat dinner. But now many of my nights include writing or revising. Some of my SCBWI local shop talk meetings include sharing my work with the group for feedback. And when my days don’t involve anything seemingly creative at all, well, I don’t beat myself up for curling up in a blanket on the couch with a cat on my feet and Netflix on the screen. After all, self love is also a value that deserves my attention, and I think it takes vulnerability to know that it’s okay (and needed) to take time for rest and restoration, too. :)
I have tried and fantastically failed NaNoWriMo multiple times. Four failed attempts, to be exact. For each of those attempts, I tried to run with an idea I’ve had cooking in my brain for years (a mind blowing novel, I swear) but when NaNoWriMo came around, my idea well ran dry. I had an idea but that was all. Turns out, an idea is not enough to write a novel.
What made this year and my fifth attempt different? Here are the things that took me from NaNoWriMo Attempter to a NaNoWriMo Winner:
Getting into the NaNoWriMo mindset
Prior to November, I took the NaNo Prep course offered through Coursera. This was a collegiate level course cramped into a span of two months. The pace of the course was intense, but it helped me build (and get comfortable with) a daily writing routine. The instructors taught foundational writing principals which in turn enabled me to identify what I needed in order to take my novel from an idea to well, a novel.
Setting non word count goals
NaNoWriMo centers around writing a 50k novel by the end of the month. In my past NaNo attempts, focusing on the word count created a mental block that I couldn’t break through. This year I created non word count goals on a weekly and monthly basis. The monthly goals were reminders that participating in NaNoWriMo was supposed to be fun, an activity that helped move me towards my goals of being an author. Weekly goals I set each Sunday, making them achievable and not overwhelming (which made it easier to succeed). For the last week, when I knew I could hit 50k, I added a word count goal for extra motivation. I also hung my goals up in my bedroom where I would see them everyday.
I would not have been able to finish NaNoWriMo without having supporters to push me on the tough days. My husband was all in; making me a word count tracking spreadsheet and staying up late with me until I reached my daily word count. Having him on board made it easier to spend all of my time outside of work on my computer typing away in make believe land. I also made a friend on the NaNoWriMo site through the genre forums. Both of our novels are in the women’s fiction genre and we agreed to support each other throughout the month. My buddy provided ideas when I was stuck, sent motivation and wallowed with me when I had mental blocks. I am thankful for the support because it made a difference!
Creating an outline
I started NaNoWriMo without an outline. Heading into the second week I realized I needed an outline to figure out my story arc and what I needed to write to get to the novel’s end. Creating an outline forced me to think critically about the movement in my novel and gave me something to work on when I felt I had nothing left in the tank.
Participating in NaNoWriMo sprints
Thank heavens for the NaNoWriMo Sprint Twitter account. Their hosted sprints made word counts achievable by breaking writing up into time blocks. Simply put: write as many words in a time block (5 minutes, 15 minutes, etc) as possible and share your count with the sprinters on Twitter. Doing a few of these sprints multiple times a day made getting to 1,667 words a day manageable. Encouragement from fellow NaNoWriMo sprinters was the cherry on top!
Getting the words on paper
It sounds simple, but when times got tough or I felt stuck or defeated or hopeless, I told myself to just get the words on the paper. The words didn’t have to be poetic. They didn’t have to be reader ready. They just needed to be on the paper. I convinced myself that real writing comes from being a strong editor and rewriter. That concept made it easier to let go of the pressure of perfection and get the words on the page.
Even though my novel isn’t finished, I knocked out a huge chunk of it thanks to NaNoWriMo. Sometimes I can’t believe I accomplished writing 50k words but by golly I did it and now I’m well on my way to writing my first novel.