Spring and New Beginnings

It’s the season of so much more than yellow daffodils, sugarcoated Peeps (a favorite of my dad’s), hollow chocolate bunnies, cascades of jellybeans, and pastels.

It’s the time when we celebrate Jesus Christ’s resurrection. We greet one another with, “He is risen, indeed!” Not He has risen, but He is – because Christ lives today.

After listening to Neil Gaiman’s audiobook “American Gods” with David, I was reminded of those who like to point out that Easter was originally a pagan holiday before the life of Christ. Indeed, that’s where much of the baby chick, eggs, and bunny imagery comes from, since Easter was a fertility festival.

You might be surprised to know this doesn’t bother me in the least. To me, Easter represents new beginnings. Christ’s death represents the opportunity for new life for us – a real life that goes beyond what this world can offer. It’s like we’ve upcycled a holiday to make it mean more. (Interesting article here on whether Jesus would celebrate Easter today.)

new beginnings

David and I have both made new starts: enjoying the sunshine more by running together outside and making bold culinary attempts to eat healthier (shout out to mock mashed potatoes made with cauliflower – still amazed at how good this tastes).

new book reviews

Thank you each for helping me to become a book reviewer. I am still gobbling up books and posting about them on Amazon, Goodreads, and here in the book review section of my blog, “Recent Reads.” (Check it out if you are looking for a good book to read!)

I’ve completed 28 book reviews since this time last year! It’s been a dream come true, and that’s no exaggeration. Each book introduces me to new styles of writing and creative stories that fuel my writing as well as my life in general. (Book reviews to come: Finished reading Duncan’s “Moon Women,” Picoult’s “Lone Wolf,” Abrams and Dorst’s “Ship of Theseus,” Ingermanson’s “Transgression: A Time-Travel Suspense Novel,” and Gabaldon’s “Voyager.” Aaaah, so many great stories!)

new plans

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been accepted into a doctoral program in Digital Teaching and Learning, and so in the fall I’ll be taking classes in instructional design and the cognitive psychology surrounding learning. Still stunned by this opportunity!

What does this mean for my writing? Well, for one thing, it means I need to finalize the edits to Wedding 3000, the book I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in 2013 and had edited by my terrific writers’ group here in Greensboro. I’m currently drafting a query letter and synopsis to send to agents. I’m told I should expect plenty of rejections, so perseverance is a must! Please pray that this story finds the right agent and publisher so that it can encourage couples who are planning their wedding day to focus on what’s actually important (hint: It isn’t the color of the font on the invitations or the flowers).

In closing, I wish you each a joyful Easter that means more than the candy lollapalooza and egg hunts; join me in making some new beginnings.

Best to each of you,

Susie

Cattle Rancher

Sure, it’s been a while since my last post. A few of you may be like, what happened to Susie? Has she given up? Too busy for writing?

Yup, yup, and yup. I am too busy for writing, but I’ve learned that every writer is. So take that excuse out, kick it around, toss it in the garbage and let’s move on!

In short, I’ve become a cattle rancher.

rancher on a horse in a large field

A beautiful image from a beautiful blog, VeederRanch.com.

Let’s envision these posts as actual fenceposts for a second. Picture a hardy cattle rancher, clad in well-worn blue jeans and stiff leather boots, an embroidered Western style shirt and a big-brimmed ten-gallon hat. Bueno. That’s me, and let me tell you, I look awesome in that outfit. Ok, ok, sidebar aside, that’s me in the sense that these online posts are the fenceposts. I’m slowly going around the fields of activity, marking new moments and milestones as I attempt to define what’s going on. Sometimes I’m just not going to be building the fence; the important activities are what’s going on inside the fence.

Here are a few of the horses I’m breaking and cattle I’m taming and crops I’m raising:

  • Breaking that wild mustang, Book Reviewing – she’s a particularly fun horse to break. Currently I’m reading “Strong is the New Skinny” by Jennifer Cohen and “Gifts of Sight” by Bruce Shields, and I hope to have these reviews up on this blog in a few days.
  • Planting seeds for a new crop of NaNoWriMo – Yes, today marks the second day of National Novel Writing Month! I’ve decided to undertake this exciting goal for the second year in a row. This year’s novel plot was co-brainstormed with my husband David, and it’s a new adventure to have someone to bounce ideas off of as I write. The goal is 1,667 words per day until you hit 50,000 by November 30!
    • Last year’s efforts successfully grew “Wedding 3000,” which is just 50 pages away from being fully edited by my talented Writers’ Group. I hope to publish it! For real! It’s happening!
  • Branding a graduate-level instructional design course through NC State – trying to leave my mark on this material and absorb it into my daily work. This course has proven heavy with academic readings, new perspectives on instructional design, and a great sally forth into the possibility of becoming a graduate student. I’m wrapping up my application now, which is due in February, which means if I were to be accepted I’d start the PhD program in August 2015. Still on the fence about whether this program will take away from my writing…prayers on this big decision are appreciated!
  • Helping the community – Volunteering with The Junior League of Greensboro as Editor to produce our magazine, The EverGreene, which comes out in March.
  • Preparing for winter – the many joyful tasks of creating Christmas gifts for friends and family, mainly through crocheting and shopping.
  • Taking care of my fellow rancher – keeping my husband fed & happy; nearly 8 months into marriage, and we are enjoying being together more than ever!
  • Giving glory to the Creator – God has blessed us through a gorgeous summer, flourishing fall and now the excitement of winter. Recently our Bible study challenged us to ensure that we are being as vocal about our amazing Lord online as we do in person.

Happy Trails to you until we meet again,

Susie (tips my hat and rides off into the sunset)

 

Two New Book Reviews and What the GRE Doesn’t Measure

All, thank you for your support recently that enabled me to become a book reviewer! I’ve definitely “caught the fire,” so-to-speak, and I’ve reviewed two books and am expecting three more in genres I don’t usually read!

You can read the book reviews here (Prelude for a Lord and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn); I am thrilled to say they were both excellent selections I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys high quality Christian love stories set in past times and beautiful places. Essentially I submit the link to the review on my blog and on Goodreads.com, then I’m able to request a new book! Living life from book to book seems grand to me.

It was a welcome challenge to read these two in the midst of grueling preparations to take the GRE in anticipation of graduate school. For me, reading is an escape and respite from the rigors of the chores at work and home. Even better than a mere vacation or break, these stories let me apply what I’ve read, imagined and experienced so that I can write better.

Reading did help me to prepare for the GRE; even the GRE study book I used stated that the best way to build a strong vocabulary is through reading, not endless repetition of flashcards. However, these stories brought to light the fact that the GRE tests on such narrow principles that it cannot be a good predictor for success in life or even in college. These heroines didn’t survive by dint of their ability to calculate a mysterious angle in a parallelogram nor filling in the blank of a sentence lacking an overly pretentious adjective. They survived through resourcefulness, bravery, musical skills, quickness, willingness to learn new tasks, and the ability to stay calm in fearful situations. I don’t know any standardized tests that can measure those qualities. The GRE, with its rigid set of quantitative, essay-writing, vocabulary and reading comprehension, leaves an astounding amount of other life skills completely untested. It’s important to see this test for what it is, and not any more than that.

What other skills do you think ought to be tested? How could we do it?

You’re probably asking, well, did you take the GRE yet? What’d you get? With great happiness and relief comparable to Sisyphus learning he need not roll the stone up the hill anymore, I can say that I took it yesterday and scored well enough to not take it again! Thank the Lord, whew!

At any rate, what probably seems like a rambling blog post is, in fact, my attempt to keep you up to date with the fact that I am extraordinarily happy still learning about this world of book reviewing, writing and life here in NC. Thanks and God bless you each!

WE DID IT!!!!

Thank you to each of you for subscribing! I am now officially a book reviewer, thanks to each of you!

And guess what makes it even better – I was able to join TWO different book review groups! It’s like finding two pots of gold at the end of a rainbow!

BookSneeze, aka BookLookBloggers – you already heard about these guys, but they are a division of HarperCollins Christian publishing. They contacted me on July 25, with this understated email below:

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 4.25.03 PM

I went right ahead and requested an eBook version of a Christian fiction book called “Prelude for a Lord” by Camille Elliott and published by Zondervan. I’ve already started reading!

 

BloggingforBooks – They are a branch of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House.  As soon as I joined, I was presented with a list of delicious books I could request to review. I chose one work of Christian fiction – The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton, and I received the email below:

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 9.13.10 AM

You can see that they thoughtfully provide the links to the book cover image for insertion into a blog post. Normally I go to Amazon.com and nab a screenshot of a book cover. This is so handy! (It’s the little things.)

 

I cannot thank you enough!

Becoming a book reviewer is a particular joy for me, as I’ve always thought it would be a dream hobby or job, akin to a travel writer or video game tester. I’m glad that others out there share this interest and have formed these large platforms enabling small-town bloggers to spread the word about good books. I really believe that recommending books to friends is one of the most powerful ways to get the news out about a great story. People trust their loved ones to know them and suggest the best books. Word-of-mouth isn’t something that millions of marketing dollars can manufacture; it has to be genuinely grassroots in origin.

Each of you helped me get to this point!

 

Reformatting this blog

Over the next few days, I’ll reorganize the book review section of my blog to make it easier to find reviews. Perhaps a gallery of links rather than individual pages or a looooooong scrolling page. I’m observing other book reviewers’ sites, such as http://marielamba.wordpress.com/, to see how they are structured.

 

On that note, I’ll be checking my mail every day for my new glossy books to read, and you can see the reviews on this blog!

God bless you each.

Waiting for boooooooooks! SOURCE: http://marielamba.wordpress.com/ – a web site for book reviewer, agent and writer Marie Lamba

 

New Devotional!

For me, writing devotionals doesn’t come as easily as writing fiction. I don’t want to force writing something that is divinely inspired and meant to encourage others spiritually. Creating a devotional is a precious opportunity to praise the Lord, comfort others, connect Scripture to our daily lives, and more. Unlike fiction, which for me really is about entertainment and at times, education, devotionals have a higher purpose.

So I was thrilled this past week when I awoke one morning, and through the groggy haze of waking up, yawning, and getting ready for the day, I realized a story worthy of a devotional had come to me.

I wrote it down, while it was still fresh, and am editing it now. I can’t publish it here, because most devotionals require the material not to be published anywhere else, but I can give you the rewritten synopsis below:

 

Recently, my husband David and I bought a tiny tomato plant. We’ve tended it like parents, watering it daily, admiring its growth, rushing out during rainstorms to shelter its fragile leaves. We even named it: Benito Tomito!

(Ok, so we’re kooky. And it’s just a simple garden plant. But inspiration can come from the most mundane places.)

We noticed the tomato plant suffering one day. Gaping holes appeared in its leaves, lower branches lost their healthy green color and turned a pale yellow, and the leaves began curling upwards. Worrying, we watered it extra, checking on it daily. Did it need new soil? Was it getting enough sunlight? Was Benito lonely?

One cool morning I notice the issue. A fat caterpillar lay comfortably on the stalk, chewing hungrily on a green leaf. Poor Benito was helpless, defenseless against those gnawing mandibles. The caterpillar’s chubby segments were the exact green as Benito’s stalk, one of Nature’s camouflage tricks, and so we’d overlooked it day after day.

It struck me this week that sin can attack us just as the caterpillar was ravaging Benito. It stays close by, in disguise, draining us of energy that could be used to serve others. We are distracted from our purpose on Earth by the many sinful, attractive activities that are out there.

Even once we’ve quit the distraction, it takes time to recover. Often there are consequences of our sin that continue pulling us away from serving others. Even after we plucked the caterpillar off and flung it away, Benito’s energies and nutrients were devoted to regrowing damaged leaves rather than growing the red tomatoes we hoped to see.

All we can do is pray for God to reveal our sin to us, that we can be on our guard against it. Similar to how we needed to protect Benito with bug spray, we can guard against sin’s infiltration by surrounding ourselves with Christian encouragers and friends who can keep us accountable and see what we can’t see, reading God’s word, and, most important of all, praying constantly.

 

I hope this encourages yall!Thank you for reading and following my blog!  I am deeply thankful for each of you.

 

 

 

Goooooooooal

Setting a New Goal

US goalkeeper Tim Howard Blocks a Shot

In light of the ongoing World Cup, I’m setting a new GOAL!

(Ok, yes, that can’t even be called a pun. “The lowest form of comedy,” my husband says, quoting “Last Man Standing”.)

 

What’s the goal? One short story per week.

 

That’s it. Seems simple, right? Sure. Just as simple as when they tell you to eat right and exercise. Hah!

 

My brother Ralph, an exercise enthusiast and exercise physiologist, recently mentioned to me that the words “should” and “shouldn’t” shouldn’t be used in the context of goals. Why? The reasoning is that there’s no commitment to action behind “I should lift weights” or “I really shouldn’t eat that giant slice of chocolate cake.” There’s only an implied action, or a slightly shamed admission that one isn’t doing the right thing. Compare those statements with “I will lift weights twice a week” or “I will not eat desserts except on Friday nights.” Much more concrete. Plus, the timeline adds structure.

So for this short story goal, instead of saying “I really should write more,” I’m going to say, “I will write one short story per week until the first week of October.” That would equal 13 short stories.

I won’t be posting them here to this blog (I know! I want to share them, you want to read them. But many of the short story contests I’ve been looking at require that submissions not have been published anywhere, even to a blog.), but I’ll let you know when they’re complete!

 

Why do you need a goal, and why short stories rather than a novel?

Settling into married life and increasing responsibilities at work have squeezed my writing time lately. It’s time to make a renewed commitment so I can keep making progress and sharing the constant stream of stories and ideas floating around in my noggin.

I have created two novel manuscripts, which I’m proud of and yet realize suffer from the typical new novelist’s traps of bulky “middles”, character inconsistencies and more. Many of the great writers started out writing short stories. Aerogramme Writers’ Studio, one of my favorite blogs, shared this article containing 35 beautiful and insightful quotes about short stories from famous authors.

Here are a few gems:

  • “In a rough way the short story writer is to the novelist as a cabinetmaker is to a house carpenter.” – Annie Proulx
  • I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.” – George R.R. Martin
  • “A short story I have written long ago would barge into my house in the middle of the night, shake me awake and shout, ‘Hey, this is no time for sleeping! You can’t forget me, there’s still more to write!’ Impelled by that voice, I would find myself writing a novel. In this sense, too, my short stories and novels connect inside me in a very natural, organic way.” – Haruki Murakami
  • “When seriously explored, the short story seems to me the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant. Whatever control and technique I may have I owe entirely to my training in this medium.” – Truman Capote
  • “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” – Ray Bradbury

 

That last one really appealed to me, hence the short story a week goal! I realized that these writers practiced their craft, the story arc and the whittling of words, within short stories. Who am I to do differently?

To me, the short story is a 5K race as a novel is to a marathon. If I can practice my form through 5Ks, I’ll be ready to tackle a novel with greater skill later.

Me writing a novel right now:

 

Let’s get to this level:

SOURCE: Michigan Runner Girl

 

Write on!

Travel the World in Stories – Maptia

Maptia

An online society of people who love to write about beautiful places in the world? Of course I’m interested in joining Maptia! This blog is a compendium of far-flung stories and posts across the globe, zooming in on those micro moments which flavor the air of other nations. People share adventure stories hiking summits or the open road, celebrating new and old customs, dining on exotic culinary creations and more. They even have a globe you can explore by clicking on the location then reading stories related to that location.

It’s a young group – only started in September of 2012 or 2013 in Switzerland – so they are developing their platform to support more travelers/writers. A few writers already have stories available – like “The Penguin Runner” set in Namibia and “A City of Bright Colours” set in Morocco. There’s a whole world out there!

manifesto

Maptia.com Manifesto

maptia manifesto

Maptia.com’s Personalized Manifesto for Me

It’s a global crowdsourcing effort, where people toss their stories together like pennies to a well. In order to make sure those pennies gleam like newly burnished copper instead of going green and gross, Maptia provides 13 tips for telling stories about places:

        1. Pick a place that means something to you.
        2. Keep it personal.
        3. Be original.
        4. Write vividly.
        5. Focus on the details.
        6. Choose photographs that tell a story.
        7. Use different vantage points.
        8. Write a colourful description to introduce your story.
        9. Show, not tell.
        10. Go the extra mile.
        11. Be selective.
        12. Read other people’s stories.
        13. Enjoy the process.

 

Whether writing about places or fiction, these 13 rules hold true, I’m thinking.

I may hearken back to earlier travels, the days when friends and I traveled through Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos…so many stories there that I’ve kept inside.

Or, this weekend, a few friends and I are going to explore the mountains of Western North Carolina, and I may attempt to write a short story guided by those 13 rules. Let’s see how it goes!

Either way, writing and exploration go hand-in-hand, whether the exploration is of the soul or of the planet.

vietnam_2007

Robertsons in front of a house we were building in “Coconut Country,” Ben Tre, Vietnam, summer 2007

 

world building

world building

Hi all, I’m excited to share with you a neat video on the concept of “world building” in fiction. Kate Messner wrote, narrated and animated this fascinating video:


In her video, Messner shares the top questions to consider in structuring a fictional world:

  • How did this world come to be? Write a short history.
  • What are the rules?
  • What are the punishments for breaking the rules?
  • What are the beliefs?
  • What are the values for this society?
  • What’s the weather like?
  • What do they eat?
  • Where are they living?
  • What is their relationship with animals and plants?
  • What technology exists?

Here’s a more comprehensive list of world-building questions for sci-fi writers especially, compiled by Patricia C. Wrede.

My own thoughts on world-building

world building

Image from “On Worldbuilding” by Ilona Andrews.

Having attempted to create world profiles before for the “Wedding 3000” story I wrote, and now for the Wren story I’m writing, I have a few observations.

(A) Many of these details are background information that should be used purposefully to advance plot and create a sense of the setting. Just because you come up with a fifty-page treatise on the weather and animal rights in your made-up universe doesn’t mean it should be presented that way in the story itself. Use the details piece by piece, teasing them out for the reader to gain a steadily growing understanding of this world and its rules. Don’t announce it all up-front. The discovery is more fun! Plus, only share the details that matter to the story.

(B) Certain questions are going to matter more for your world. In Wedding 3000, a futuristic satire on the increasing absurdity of weddings, the technology which existed matter a whole lot more than the weather. In the wren/bird story (I’ve really got to come up with a name for this working draft!), the weather and setting are vastly important, and technology not nearly as much. Beliefs and societal norms must be emphasized in this story in order for the reader to understand how significant it is when they’re broken by the protagonist.

(C) It’s okay to change. Some aspects of the Wedding 3000 world were unclear to me when I first began, but as I began to write, gaps revealed themselves. (“Oh! Well, I guess I have to think about their transportation tech now, since they’re going from one planet to another.” “What would vending machines be like in the future?” “Now that they’re sitting down to a meal, how futuristic should I make the food? It shouldn’t be so descriptive and wildly techie to distract readers away from the importance of the events they’re discussing…”) Give yourself room to continue fleshing out the world and its rules.

(D) When you’re done planning for the world-building, step away from the lists and maps you’ve drawn. Just close your eyes and think about what it’d be like to live daily life there. Walk around the streets. Feel the faint brush of the purple snowflakes on your face. Smell the burning fires all around from the hamlets’ siege. Run your hand over the cold railing of the abandoned spaceship and hear the echo of your footsteps in the giant metal dome under the stars. Follow your hero as he pulls up his mackinaw against the cold in the dimly lit alley, with the smell of refuse and rotting cabbage hanging on the bricks. Those kinds of descriptions will go a lot further than a detailed description of the voting protocol in the nation’s parliament.

 

TED Talks

I love watching TED talks. The opportunity to hear insights from experts in such a conversational, genuine way broadens my horizons and makes me think about other paths of life outside my own. The brief videos are like a jolt of energy for me, or like a delicious new dish of ideas I digest and later ruminate. I’m thrilled TED now has a TED-Ed section as well as writers’ workshops! Will share more if I find more neat videos like this one.

Stunt Writing Update – Observations on Entertainment Habits after Week 1

Hello loved ones!

The week is up, and results are in! My self-inflicted challenge as part of the online Stunt Writing course I’m taking was to observe my entertainment habits for one week. I took diligent notes on how I felt before selecting entertainment, what I selected, how I felt during and afterwards, and how much time I spent on entertainment. My hypothesis is that I could be spending more time on productive entertainment such as creative writing or spending time with friends, rather than mind-numbing entertainment such as watching tv shows that aren’t of much merit. I tried to be scientific in my field notes, but feelings are subjective and sometimes I had to recall information from a day or two before.

Findings:

Total time spent on entertainment over the week of Feb 3 – Feb 9:      16.1 hours

Breakdown:

susie entertainment chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusions and Side Notes:

I do feel that this week was potentially more of an outlier with the number for friends and family time in person, as there were a number of social engagements planned for the week. It was great! My fiance David and I were honored to be thrown a party for our upcoming wedding by my dear aunts and uncles in SC. The time spent there catching up with friends and family passed too quickly!

I also found it perplexing whether I should count exercise as entertainment or not. Still feels like a chore. After debating with myself, I decided that it was a choice for my free time, so I did include it.

So this tells me that I’m not as bad off as I thought with watching tv too much, but I could still cut that number in half and dedicate the time to creative writing/creative projects! Let’s hope that next week’s breakdown shows more of a redistribution!

As for the total hours of entertainment – 16.1 hours out of 112 waking hours doesn’t seem so bad. It also seems reasonable when I break it down by day (16.1 hours over 7 days = 2.28 hours per day), so maybe I’m in a more normative range than I thought!

 

An observation of my week’s entertainment habits has led to this overall conclusion: more intentional entertainment choices result in greater satisfaction, sense of rest and even heightened energy.  

This past week I catalogued my entertainment choices each day after work. Options ranged from trash tv shows that required zero brain activity, to reading gripping fiction, to watching documentaries that challenged me, to creative writing, to phone calls with friends, to shopping, to dinner or hanging out with friends and new people. After reviewing my daily notes, I noticed that “lazier” entertainment choices left me unsatisfied and wanting more, sort of like empty calories for the brain. I flopped onto the couch and proceeded to watch one tv show (“Last Man Standing”), then another (“New Girl”), then another (a movie – “Prince & Me”), and afterwards only felt a dull sense of boredom and fatigue, and I had trouble even remembering what I’d watched. Seems like a pretty clear indication my brain was turning to mush rather than being strengthened. But another night I resisted the urge for “lazy” entertainment and chose to write instead on the Wren story I shared with you in another blog post. After just an hour of creative writing and a phone call with a friend left me feeling joyful, productive and excited. Plus, I noticed that the more intentional entertainment left my mind surging with energy, new words and ideas, and a “full” feeling.

To be the person I want to be – a full time novelist and engaged family member and friend – I’ve got to be intentional with my entertainment. After all, life is short, and each day counts!

I was especially excited to realize something another classmate has shared – that when you truly lose track of time while writing, you know it’s good! I experienced that as well. When my fingers were flying over the keyboard as the pages filled up with adventure and dialogue, with the occasional reach for another sip of rapidly cooling coffee, it was only after an hour or so that I looked up to see the clock blinking another hour. Surprise, laughter, relaxation – these were the fruits of my labors. I am looking forward to sharing my writing with some friends and family as potential readers/editors!

Please weigh in if you have any ideas to share on being purposeful and intentional with your free time. What works for you? Do you ever feel guilty spending too much time on entertainment such as tv? Do you think you would be surprised one way or another if you took notes on your own entertainment habits?

Stunt Writing

EXPLOSIONS! Muscled, athletic people who look remarkably like celebrities leaping off buildings and gracefully rolling to their feet! CARS FLIPPING!

stunt man falling

stunt pyrotechnicsEnter the world of stunt writing. Basically all those things that make up stunts in movies, minus…er…most of it. And a lot safer, usually.

 

 

I’ve joined a MOOC – Massive Open Online Course – on the Canvas network called “Stunt Writing for Personal Growth.” The instructor, Erin Jourdan, has an M.F.A, resides in L.A. and teaches a writing class on memoirs (see her website here: http://memoirclass.com/). In her Twitter profile, she describes herself as “Creativity junkie, writing therapist, creative coach, dream catcher.” So far, she’s challenged us with a very big goal.

 

 

 

WRITE FOR THIRTY MINUTES A DAY.

Why does this seem so hard? So intimidating and impossible? 30 minutes is but a fraction of waking hours. Considering I’m usually up from 6:30am/7am until midnight, it’s only 2.7% of my day. (Somebody check my math – 30 minutes / 1110 minutes, yes?)

make it happen captain

For me, the fear comes from building structure around such a creative activity. I want to let the creative juices flow when they may, let them whisk me away into dreamworld suddenly and out of the blue. But, to be a professional writer, one cannot wait on the capricious winds of fancy, one must BUILD A FAN. One cannot simply float along, carried by the tides of imagination, one must BUILD A PADDLE BOAT AND PEDAL. (And if you’ve ever pedaled a paddle boat, you’ll recall just how much paddling you do for just how little payoff!)

So I’ve challenged myself to accept Erin Jourdan’s gauntlet. To make it happ’n, Cap’n.

 

 

 

Writing About…What?

So…erm…what’s the topic? You may be asking. Jourdan asks us to fill out a stunt writing plan with parameters (argh! real work! but you gotta have a plan in order to stick to it!).

Here’s mine:

  • I commit to writing for 30 minutes every day.
  • My stunt is focused around: ___evaluating how I entertain myself_____________
  • I will consider this aspect of my life from 3 different perspectives, one each week for 3 weeks.

WEEK ONE_____Observe how I entertain myself and make scientific notes in a journal (what time of day would I rather watch a movie vs. read a book? how often am I choosing entertainment over work in my free hours? when I’m with others, what are they doing to entertain themselves? how much of entertaining yourself is entertaining others?) I will observe what I feel before and after entertainment (what made me want to watch that movie? how do I feel afterwards? is it what I hoped? why’d I choose that book to read? what does it make me want to do afterwards? am I better for having had this experience?).

WEEK TWO____When I feel like being entertained passively, choose a different path. (example: Eh, I just feel like sitting on the couch and watching a summer blockbuster movie right now. Choice: No! Switch things up and read something challenging, go for a walk, watch a documentary instead, etc.)

WEEK THREE__Be more thoughtful and intentional in making entertainment a useful activity that makes me better, rather than just takes up time. Do I feel better? Have I been more productive

 

#1 Write a short paragraph about what your stunt is, this will be your “plan of attack.”

I have found that I spend a lot of time doing things that are entertaining (watching a movie, reading a book, etc.), then feel guilty afterwards for not having been more productive with my free time. I know that entertainment is an essential part of life, because your mind needs to relax to stay healthy and strong. However, I worry that I devote too much time to being entertained, and that my entertainment doesn’t make me a better person at times. At a recent conference, a speaker challenged us and said when you are choosing your entertainment, go for a documentary instead of a summer blockbuster, or read something new rather than a beach-read. This resonated with me. On a larger scale, I can make an educated guess to say that American culture today may be more built on entertainment than cultures of the past, when I think back to stories I’ve read of my ancestors’ Scottish roots in hard work and my grandmother’s tales of growing up on a farm. Can being hardworking and regularly entertained coexist peacefully? What’s a healthy appetite for entertainment? What’s the right balance for me? To pursue this, I’ll spend the next three weeks studying this aspect of my life. For the first week, I’ll make scientific notes on how I entertain myself, when, with whom, how many hours, etc. For the second, I’ll observe my feelings regarding the entertainment before and after. In the third week, I’ll try to be more purposeful in changing my entertainment habits and see what happens.

 

#2 Create Restrictions: Removal, Consequences, Places, People, Research, Data, Change and Practice

 

-Removal: In the second week, I will change my entertainment habits from what I feel. To do this, I will plan out my entertainment rather than act on a whim.

-Consequences: For every time I succumb to regular entertainment habits, I’ll tell you about it on my blog and do 50 pushups.

-Places: I will seek out other places for entertainment I wouldn’t normally go to.

-People: I will ask one person each week about their entertainment habits and whether they feel good about them.

-Things: I will review about a book or movie each week on my blog.

-Research: I will look into studies on entertainment.

-Data: I will keep a log of my entertainment habits.

-Change: I will change my entertainment habits in the second and third week.

-Practice: I will write down notes on my entertainment habits.

-Practice: I will write thoughts on my entertainment habits each day.

-Practice: I will dedicate my time to building more positive, healthful entertainment habits.

 

Discussion #1

Jourdan’s first discussion board post was interesting. Usually with these large courses the introductions consist of Give your name, country, and why you are interested in taking this course. Yawn…but Jourdan asked for us to share our earliest memory related to either shoes, a coat, a handbag or a meal. (A little female-centric, but that doesn’t bother me too much!) So I shared this off-the-cuff thought:

When I was young, I envied. Other kids in kindergarten had the coolest, the neatest, the greatest shoes. Why were these shoes the pinnacle of awesomeness? Because they would light up with each step. Chin in my hand, sitting on steps, I remember watching other kids at recess play basketball and speed around on tricycles, their light-up shoes glowing with each movement. One day, my mom brought me to the shoe store and had mercy on my plight. She bought me – and I will always indelibly remember – a pair of purple suede boots with exactly three light-up knobs on either side. These knobs lit up with precisely each step I took. I wore them out of the shoe store, stomping and hoe-downing, jumping and leaping, tap-dancing and hopping to test them out. For days I enjoyed them. But only just days. Because one day, they lit up on only every other step. Then another day, only every few steps. The lights flickered and faded, as did my excitement. I felt like I learned something about life from those shoes, but I’m not sure what.

By the way, if you want to also join her course – you don’t have to write 30 minutes a day, but you can look around in the course and learn something – it’s not too late to sign up!