Category Archives: Writing

Itty Bitty: My New Micro-Journal Habit

Okay, so it’s a little too early to say  it’s my “new habit”, but I really want to establish a good, solid journaling habit this year, and if intentions count for anything …

As we headed into the new year, I played with several ideas, hoping to find one that would ease my transition from not-very-consistent-journaler to “why, yes, I do journal every day”.  I’ve had many a new year start with the shiny, enticing new resolution “Journal Every Day” but it’s always ended up being, as my youngest would put it, an epic fail.

It occurred to me that perhaps it might be best to ease into the journaling habit. Start small. And structured. Limit myself to one page a day.

So, no beautiful blank book. All those blank pages all at once have always proven to be too overwhelming.

At first I thought I’d get myself a one-page-a-day daily planner, and commit to writing something on each page. But all the planners I looked at had lined pages, and I really wanted blank pages.

So then I thought I’d go to the art supply store and buy a small sketchbook. I’d prep it by stamping all the days in January in it, and maybe that would become an end-of-the-month ritual. You know, where I’d flip lovingly through all the pages I’d remembered to fill out the previous month and then stamp all the days of the new month, in preparation for all the days to come which I would also remember to fill.

But then I saw this. The Moleskine Daily Diary/Planner. It’s an absolutely ADORABLE teeny tiny book filled with blank pages, one for each day of the month.

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It’s so small, it fits in the palm of my hand.

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And the best thing? I only have to fill one 2X3 blank page a day! Not a whole lot of space, so that takes care of the whole being overwhelmed thing.

How have I been doing so far? Well, I didn’t buy it until January 4th, so that’s when I started. But I’ve filled each page since then (although there were a couple of nights where I forgot, and had to write my entry the following morning).

My problem has always been that I have lots of days where not much happens, but I’ve been finding that even a day spent at the computer working madly away at a deadline gives me enough fodder to fill one teeny tiny 2X3 page.

They say it takes 30 days to create a new habit (some say 21 days, but I rather like the 30 day number). I’ve done seven days so far. Wish me luck on this one, because consistently keeping a journal is something I’ve wanted for a very long time!

Monday ramblings: NaNoWriMo Win, Readers’ Workouts and Book Buying Binge

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NaNoWriMo

It’s a little early yet, I know, but the writing’s been going really well and I actually “won” NaNoWriMo on November 22, the American Thanksgiving, but couldn’t validate my win until yesterday.

I am now firmly ensconced in “Act III” of my children’s novel, and could possibly finish the first draft this week. Or not, as I’m in for a very busy week. I had a number of indexing deadlines scheduled for earlier this month that were delayed and guess what? They’ve been rescheduled for completion this week and next!

Yes. Welcome to my freelancing life …

Readers’ Workout and #30DS

It’s a good thing I’m writing now about the 30 Day Shred Twitter group I’ve been participating in, because one thing I’ve noticed: when I’m busy, exercise is one of the first things that gets prioritized right out the window. Which is very, very sad because it should be in my top three priorities, right after meditation and writing.

Participating in #30DS has been really motivating so far, though, so who knows, right? Just knowing if I do get the Shred done for the day, I can send out a tweet to my #30DS support group really pushes me to simply get it done. That, and telling myself it’s only 20 minutes. (It’s really about 25 minutes if you count the warm up and cool down, which I do, because apparently I’m supposed to be getting 150 (or is that 160?) minutes of exercise a week).

#30DS is part of Joy Weese Moll’s Readers’ Workout challenge. Anyone can join in; the weekly post goes live every Tuesday and you can either blog about your weekly Readers’ Workout goals and successes, or chime in on the comments. If you want to do the 30 Day Shred with us on Twitter, just jump right in. We’re all doing different levels of the Shred so you don’t have to be at any particular level.

Book Buying Binge

I’m sad to say I went on a book buying binge yesterday (well, okay, not really. I’m actually really happy about it and enjoyed myself thoroughly!).

After my big book purge last year, before moving to the city, I swore to myself I wouldn’t go on such binges again.  I think I’ve done quite well, actually, since we moved last November and this is my FIRST book buying binge since we moved. I should be patting myself on the back, right?

Anyway, I blame Memory and Kailana. I saw their tweets about the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale at Bookcloseouts (can you say 50% off already discounted prices? I can, over and over and over again!) and couldn’t resist taking a look – and then I was trapped! I spent yesterday doing indexing, taking a break to browse Bookcloseouts and add more stuff to my cart, indexing some more, taking another break to add more stuff to my cart, and so on.

I was up until 3 A.M.!! Bookcloseouts has only limited quantities of each book, and several of the books in my cart had only two or three copies left. I wanted to make sure I finished up the purchase before bed, because who knew if there would be any copies left in the morning, right?

As it was, I only managed to hit the following categories: Children’s Fiction, Children’s Non-Fiction, Art, Crafts & Hobbies and Cookbooks.

The sad news is, I only got two books for myself – I’m trying to be thrifty, so each time I saw a book I wanted, I checked the library, which had copies of nearly every book I was interested in. Right now I’m trying to buy copies of books that I’ve already read and really really loved, so I just couldn’t justify adding new-to-me books that are already available from the library (there’s also the NOT-ENOUGH-BOOK-SHELVES motivation).

The good news? I checked off a lot of people on my gift list! So that was very, very good indeed.

I can’t resist temptation, though. The sale at Bookcloseouts doesn’t end until tonight, and I still have all the Fiction categories to browse through. I just might end up with a second order!

Rebel!

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Up until three days ago, I hadn’t been planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. Some of you know that I got back on the writing track about three weeks ago, and my progress has been really good. To participate in NaNoWriMo officially, you must start with a totally new work, and I just wasn’t ready to step away from my current WIP to start on a new one.

However, someone asked me the other day, “are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?” And before I dashed off an answer, it occurred to me to look up my stats for my current book.

I had written 30,000 words over 17 days, and when I did the math, it turned out I’ve been writing at a NaNo pace anyway.

Well, how could I turn my back on that?

There is a way to participate in NaNoWriMo without following the rules to the letter – you can sign up and declare yourself a Rebel. To qualify as a Rebel, you must break a rule. Which I am, by continuing with my current WIP instead of starting a new one.

So here I am! I’m thrilled to be doing NaNoWriMo this year (especially after last year’s disastrous showing – somehow, NaNoWriMo and major move into the city simply didn’t mesh well).

What about you? Are you participating this year?

Back on Track (plus: do you know this book?)

It’s been a while since I last posted about my writing – and that’s because I hadn’t been doing any writing!

After a good start to the summer (I handwrote my way through a Moleskine notebook) I developed major resistance to writing. And while I kept thinking about my writing, I just couldn’t seem to sit down and actually do any writing.

Luckily, I have the best writing buddy in the world. Janel Gradowski kept the magic of writing alive for me through her daily emails to me. She’d write about her progress in her latest WIP and talk about plotting, outlining, POV, making characters come alive – stuff that made the writer in me itch to get to the keyboard. She’d write about organizing things with post-its and index cards (I love organizing with post-its and index cards). She’d send me links to great writing books and posts and interviews.

She never made me feel guilty, though. It was more like she’d hold open the doorway to the writing life, and just gently made sure I knew it was still there, waiting for me.

All of her support helped to eat away at my resistance. Last week, the last remaining bits of resistance suddenly lifted. I found myself embracing two words that I’m not really that fond of: Discipline and Commitment. (“Not really that fond of” is putting it mildly.)

I decided to make my writing a priority. I committed to sitting down to write first thing in the morning, right after my meditation but before I did anything else. I decided I had the discipline to keep that commitment.

Now, I’ve done this before – say to myself, my writing is a priority. And “I’m going to just do it”. And it always kind of fizzled out. But the strange thing is, when you add a dash of Discipline and a spoonful of Commitment into things, things don’t fizzle out.

I’ve been writing a chapter a day (I’m doing a rewrite of my old WIP, WAVERLEY). I have absolutely no resistance to sitting down to the keyboard.

I’m not making excuses, procrastinating, picking up a good book instead, cleaning the dishes, taking a nap, working on the next index, surfing the net – I sit down and I write. I try to write for at least an hour. Mainly I write until I’ve finished the chapter, which might or might not take an hour.

I’m not sure if I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo this year; it depends on whether I get Waverley finished before November 1. But it’s okay, because I’m back on track!

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In reading news: I just finished Midnight Riot, by Ben Aaronovitch. It’s a very fun urban fantasy about Constable Peter Grant of London’s Metropolitan Police, who interviews a witness to a murder, only to discover the witness is a ghost. Very tongue-in-cheek, with fun sci-fi and fantasy pop culture references.

Which reminds me of another book I read recently. I’ve been trying to remember the name of it (I forgot to mark it down in any of my usual TBR-recording spaces). It’s a newer release, and it’s about a woman who wakes up in this woman’s body, and all she knows is someone’s trying to kill her. The theme is a little like Midnight Riot, as it’s about a ministry or department in England where people with magical powers police the magical things that are happening.

The woman discovers that the woman whose body she has now, was a doormat, but it turns out her powers are very powerful. There’s a “Court” that the woman turns out to be a part of (and a conspiracy within the court). There’s a being who inhabits a number of bodies all at the same time, and another being who turns out to be a vampire. It was quite an exciting book. I’m hoping the name of it will come to me (if you know what book I’m talking about, please let me know in the comments!) as I’m hoping there’ll be a sequel and if there is, I want to read it!

Update: I was just looking through the latest issue of Shelf Awareness, and I discovered the name of the book! It’s The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for a sequel.

For the Joy of It

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I spent yesterday afternoon curled up on the sofa, reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is.

This past year, I’ve borrowed What It Is from the library three different times. Twice now, I had to return the book to the library unread, but third time’s a charm, don’t they say? I’m very glad, because this is a book I was meant to read.

I’ve spent a long time pursuing something magical that’s eluded me for most of my adult life; until I was well into my late teens, writing was something I did simply because, when I wrote, I slipped into another world. Time lost all meaning; I plied my art with utter absorption.

And then I grew up. I became an adult, and I misplaced my keys to that world.

I’ve been looking for those keys for so many years.  I’ve searched high and low. I’ve enlisted books on creativity for help. I’ve called what I’ve been searching for many things: the flow, process, the zone.

And yesterday, as I curled up with Lynda Barry’s What It Is, I found those keys again. I can feel them, right now, in my hot little hands.

What It Is

I was so excited as Barry began talking about her own childhood world of drawing and storytelling, of that state of absorption, where time is warped. She talked about that floating feeling of being both there and not there, and what she described was so familiar to me. So joyously familiar.

And then I turned the page, and she began talking about how she discovered her way back to that world.

It all boils down, of course, to simply writing for the joy of it – not for the accolades, not for money, not even for other people to read. And I’ve always known this intellectually, but knowing it and experiencing it are two very different things.

What Barry showed me was how to experience this again.

In that vital daydream state from which all of my writing flows, my stories always play out in my mind as moving images, a movie. But when I sit down to the physical act of writing, I forget to experience the images, and instead try to do everything with thoughts alone.

Thoughts can take me pretty far. From a single opening image, I have been able to use thought to propel me tens of thousands of words into a story. But it’s the experiencing of the images that I’ve been missing. It’s this experiencing that has the energy to take me through to the end of the story.

So now I have the keys again. I know now I can go back to writing for the joy of it, immersed in that floating feeling of both being here and not being here.

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, by Joe Dispenza

I’ve been reading Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, by Joe Dispenza as part of an informal book club with some of my friends. And since I happened to be in a sketchnoting frame of mind while I was reading it, I ended up taking sketchnotes of every chapter.

Here are my notes from chapter one (click on the picture for a bigger version). Please excuse the sparkly nature of the pen; I’d just come across an old set of really nice gel pens and couldn’t resist using them (I used a different colour for each chapter of the book – thankfully, the lighter pens were used for later chapters!).

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As you can see from my notes, the book goes quite a bit into quantum mechanics, and how we can apply what we know of the quantum field to “rewiring” ourselves and breaking out of old habits. It’s a very interesting discussion, although sometimes the application of theory seemed a little bit forced to me. But since I believe there are mysteries of life and consciousness that just aren’t explainable by our current scientific knowledge, that didn’t bother me much.

For me, the power of Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself lies in the four week meditation program outlined in the last half of the book. I actually spent several weeks going through the process – but found myself resisting taking it beyond week two every single time.

But luckily, I’ve been reading this book with some friends of mine, one of whom went all the way through the four week process – and rather inspiringly, she has been experiencing all sorts of lovely and welcome career-related surprises in her life. I am currently standing at one of those proverbial forks in the work/life road, and such surprises would definitely be an asset right around now!

So I ended up going to Joe Dispenza’s site and buying the MP3 download of the guided meditation, which was what my friend was using as a companion to the book. The book refers to this meditation a few times; unfortunately, access to the meditation doesn’t come with the book but both Ward and I have been doing the meditation for a few days now and I’d say it’s well worth the $4.95.

For one thing, each time I’ve finished the meditation (which, at over an hour, is quite long) I find myself just bopping with energy. This morning, right after I finished, it occurred to me to go to the local coffee shop and work on my current novel. I spent a wonderful two hours there, and managed to discover the solution to a plotting problem I was facing.

Pretty powerful stuff. If you’re into the quantum mechanics aspect of changing old habits, you’ll probably find the book interesting. And if you find yourself having problems with the meditation program outlined in the book, you might want to give the guided meditation a try.

At the very least, Ward and I are both enjoying our meditation practice a lot more these days!

That Whole “Time Flies” Thing, Writing Mojo, and Stephen King

So now that I’m doing the big city living thing, I’ve been discovering something interesting: time flies when you’re doing nothing more than going through your day.

That sounds a bit strange, doesn’t it? I mean, time flew for me back in the suburbs, too. But it’s a very different feeling in my new “city life”.

Back at our old place, time flew, yes – time always flies, except, of course, when you most want it to – but it flew very predictably. Every day saw the same old, same old and so time flew over very familiar terrain.

And before you start thinking, wow, Belle, you must be so busy running about now, doing stuff, LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLEST … Um, no, I’m not.

It’s that whole “potential” thing.

Photo 2012-04-06 10 07 09 PMMoon shining on Lake Ontario

(Disclaimer: This picture has absolutely NOTHING to do with anything in this post. I took it sometime last week or the week before that. The moon shining down on the lake was just so pretty. Unfortunately, my iPhone camera simply didn’t do it justice. But I’m sharing it with you all anyway!

Now back to my post …)

To be honest, I haven’t yet fully clicked into full-on city living. Not yet. And at the pace I’m going, by the time I’ve truly thrown myself into doing and living all the amazing events and experiences Toronto has to offer – BAM! – I’m going to be knee deep in deadlines again.

(Well, there you go. That’s motivation enough to start living more fully, isn’t it?)

But you see,  every day here there’s the potential of doing something different, something new. And up until our move, I’ve had such an isolated, hermit-like existence, even this potential is like a breath of fresh air.

And I’m realizing, I really must get a grip on things. Savour the potential, sure. But I really don’t want to let that put me off-track. Potential is fun. It’s enticing. But there’s more to life than just savouring the potential while time flies right by you.

(OMG, Belle, is this your long-winded, very strange way of explaining your recent blogging absences?

Why yes. Yes it is. Is it that obvious?

Yes.)

In other, more exciting (to me) news: I have my writing mojo back!

Yes, that bit of news deserves bolding …

And all it took was recognizing that my habits have changed. Where I once was that bright and sparkly night owl, ready to tackle huge manuscripts late into the night, I’m now that sleepy, tired is-it-time-for-bed-yet owl who wakes up (those who know me well won’t believe this, but it’s true) at the ungodly hour of 8:00 a.m. Yes, you read that right. Ever since our move, I’ve been waking up around 8:00 – without even trying!

This has had a major effect on my nightly activities. So in recognition of this, I changed things around. My writing time is now in the mornings (or close to it).

I have somehow managed to become a morning person. Well, okay, maybe “morning person” is a bit of an exaggeration.

How about mid-morning person? And some days, an early afternoon person.

Because it does take me that long (after my mandatory two cups of coffee) to get going some days.

And in the reading department … I finished Stephen King’s 11/22/63 the other day. I will probably post a review, but here’s my super-micro review:

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The Art of Correspondence: A Month of Letters

When Care (Care’s Online Book Club) told me about her goal of writing a letter a day this year, I knew it was something I really wanted to do, too.

But an entire year of writing a letter a day? A year was just way too overwhelming. It was okay that I didn’t actually know 365 people to write to – Care assured me I didn’t need to write to a different person each time, I could write letters to the same recipients.

But what a commitment! A letter every single day.

I love digging into a project, like the Creative Every Day project, but I knew adding writing a letter a day this year to my list of intentions was just setting myself up for failure.

Then last week, Care posted about a challenge she’d found: A Month of Letters 2012. Since she was already writing a letter every day, signing up for the challenge was a no-brainer for her.

Me? I had to think about it a little. It was only for a month. I could handle a month, right? Not only that, it happens to be the shortest month of the year (even with this being a leap year).

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When I was little, I wrote to penpals across the world. Last year, when we finally went through the accumulation of a decade of junk in preparation for our big move, I came across a box of letters I’d received from penpals when I was a kid. I’d kept every single one.

Looking through this box, I remembered how much fun it was to sit down with a decorated sheet of paper, and write about what was happening in my life. The delight of finding an interesting stamp to use. The thrill of writing down the address on the envelope and picturing my little missive winging its way across the continents.

I miss that.

Don’t get me wrong – I love emails. I write long chatty, emails to friends every day. I receive long, chatty emails back. Long, chatty emails are a much loved part of my daily routine.

But there’s something about putting pen to paper that is really just so delightful.

So I’m up for this challenge of writing a letter a day for a month. Care tells me, after a month of letter writing for her, it’s been a real life changer.

And finally! A reason for all the pretty note paper I can’t resist buying! (Not to mention, justification for buying more …)

Would you like to receive a hand-written letter from me this month? Email me your snail mail address and I’ll add you to my correspondence list!

My Mid-January Goals Update

One of the perks of blogging is the truly awesome accountability tool it can be. It’s mid-January already (four days past the mid-point, actually) so what better way to motivate myself goal-wise than post this little update?

So how have I been doing with all my new year goals? Well …

This week has actually been the first week I’ve found myself in sync with my daily goals. The first week of January was virtually a write-off – but then again, I knew it would be, and my expectations weren’t high. The second week turned out to be a little busier than I’d expected, with some new deadlines turning up on my desk that I hadn’t anticipated.

This week, though, has been great. The kind of week that had me saying, “Ah, this is the life …”

So, excuses aside, here’s how I’ve been shaping up with my daily and weekly goals:

The Dailys

1. Read. I finally got my Toronto Public Library library card last week, and to say I felt like a kid in a candy store as I ambled through TPL’s ebook site is no exaggeration.

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So, after a rough start at the very beginning of the new year, I’ve been doing quite well with my daily “Read” goal; I’ve just finished Alan Bradley’s The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag – a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while now – and I have quite a few more books waiting for me on my iPad.

2. Write. I’ve discovered something about myself: the hard part for me isn’t the actual doing, it’s the “getting to it”. I’m just so skilled at procrastination, it’s quite amazing. But if I can get myself to actually sit down and start something, it’s actually kind of hard to tear myself away.

That’s what’s been happening with my writing. My first project of the year is revising and editing my mystery WIP, 120,000 words of which have been sitting on my hard drive, gathering dust, for the past four years. I’m implementing the index card method for all of my WIPs this year, so the first step was to go through my draft and get all the scenes down in index cards. I finally finished this task last night, and I’m now looking at a stack of 98 cards that contains the bones of what I’ve written so far.

Next up: filling in the gaps. I’ll be brainstorming more index cards, as there were quite a few gaps that needed to be filled. Also, I realized I needed more suspects; it’s not so much that it’s clear whodunnit. It’s more like it doesn’t seem likely that anyone did it, and as a reader, I enjoy mysteries the most when there are a lot of possibilities, rather than none at all. So I’ll be adding in my red herrings the remainder of this week!

3. Create. I did well initially with this goal. Participating in the Creative Every Day challenge was a great motivator. But then my intentions went a little wayward in the second week of the month. This week, though, I’m back on track.

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Here’s what I’ve discovered: since I’ve been in a habit of letting my creative side slide the past three or four years, in order to create a new habit of being creative every day, I need to prepare to be creative.

It sounds a little counterintuitive – after all, isn’t creativity supposed to be spontaneous? Well, not necessarily. And what’s been working for me is putting together a concrete list of creative projects, and prepping the materials for them so they’re within easy reach.

I’ve been having the most fun with the Secondary Character Bank I’ve been creating. Since I’m not counting my writing as part of my Creative Every Day challenge, it’s a great way to incorporate a writing-related activity into the challenge. And I’m finding it’s also a juicy source of inspiration for more stories!

4. Meditate. I can give myself a prize for this one! I’ve been very good with my Meditate goal, although most days I only meditated for about ten minutes. But ten minutes is far better than no minutes, right? Plus, this week I’ve been aiming for 15-20 minutes. Small steps really do gain momentum!

The Weeklys

My weekly goals right now are: blogging, exercising and experiencing. (Given the flexibility of my DIY Moleskine planner, I’ll likely be adding and deleting from these weekly goals.)

So far I’ve met the blogging one (yay!). I’ve totally sucked with the exercising one (which started out the new year as a daily goal, so you can see how far I’ve tumbled with this one). And I’ve really been doing well with the experiencing one.

By “experience”, all I mean is getting outside and doing stuff. During all those years I spent in the suburbs, I rarely ventured outside unless it was to drive to the grocery store or the mall or Costco. I didn’t walk much at all; everything was always a drive away, and as for the neighbourhood, well, you can only walk around the block a few times before the scenery of house after house after house gets a bit boring.

But I’ve been getting out quite a lot the past few weeks, and what I’ve been loving is how so many things are within walking distance!

On Tuesday, as part of a homeschooling event for our youngest, Dylan, we attended one of the Free Noon-hour Concert Series programmes at Roy Thomson Hall: the Bach Children’s Chorus. It was simply beautiful, and the bonus was being able to walk home from the concert!

So that’s my mid-January update. How have you been doing with your 2012 goals and resolutions?