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Rated: 13+ · Book · Inspirational · #1986033
I’d rather write than talk. I enjoy learning and sharing my perspective.
During 2019, I posted twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. In 2020, I will only post once a week, on Fridays. This is because I want to prepare content for two blogs that I will launch on Wordpress.com. One, which I have not yet set up, will have a Catholic focus and the other, called Kit’s Kontemplations will have a wide variety of topics. I have not launched it yet.
Here is the link:
Kit’s Kontemplations  .

Thank you to those who have read and rated any posts on this blog. I really appreciate it. When I posted my first entry in August 2019, it was as an experiment to see whether I could maintain the discipline of writing and posting twice a week. I view this blog as a “dress-rehearsal” for a blog on a public site. I didn’t want to get bogged down by all the rules and technical aspects of blogging to the point where I wasn’t actually writing.

After all the research I did on blogging, I found that the advice didn’t relate to what I want to accomplish. I decided to ask the following question on Quora: “What standard blogging advice can I ignore when creating a personal blog?” One very insightful responder said that what I am doing falls into a separate category from blogging. He called it “journalizing”.

I don’t want to write “about” me; I want to share my interests, discoveries and maybe a few useful insights. I want a place to share my writing with whoever encounters it in the hopes that it will be useful or inspiring. If something I write helps even one person, whether or not they respond to the post, then my blog/website has been successful.
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August 9, 2020 at 3:08pm
August 9, 2020 at 3:08pm
#990354
The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the chains that shackle the spirit... the arbitrariness of the constraint only serves to obtain precision of execution. — Igor Stravinsky


My first experience with constraints around writing happened over 20 years ago in a 6-week Creative Writing course. Our teacher passed around four envelopes labelled “Who”, “What”. “Where” and “When”. We each drew out a slip of paper from all the envelopes and were instructed to leave them face-down without looking at them. At her signal, we were to look at our slips and weave them into a story within 15 minutes. There was no time to do anything other than put pen to page and write like crazy. When the timer went off, I had a story. This was my first introduction to writing prompts. You are given something very specific and a time limit. You don’t think, you just write and let the magic happen.

Another experience with constraints concerned musical improvisation on a piano. For those unfamiliar with music theory, there are 12 keys, each of which has a set of seven notes, three major chords, three minor chords, and one diminished chord. The seven notes repeat all along the keyboard. Each of the chords have three notes played together but in three different positions. For example: the C chord contains the notes C, E and G. You can play the chord in the root position (C-E-G), in the first inversion as it’s called (E-G-C), or in the second inversion (G-C-E). The sheer volume of possibilities is mind boggling and not all sound well together. In each improvisation lesson, the teacher tells you which key to use so you know which set of 7 notes you are working with. Then he tells you which two of the seven possible chords of the key you are to use. Rather than crippling your creativity in improvisation, these constraints are liberating. All the other options are pushed aside and you focus only on what is assigned.

When I re-joined Writing.com   last summer, completely empty of confidence, it was their wide selection of short prompt-based activities that lit my creative fire. Some of these included: Tweet Me a Story, Taboo Words, 24-Syllables and Oriental Poetry. What was most effective to get my creativity flowing was more specific prompts and shorter time available to submit my entry.

Creativity is full of paradoxes — not the least of which is the fact that having absolute creative freedom is often highly uncreative. It’s a phenomenon called “paralysis of choice.” The more options we have, the harder it is to choose anything. So we do nothing. When everything is an option, somehow we find ourselves optionless.


I have several sources for writing prompts and several little writing projects on my mind to do. Instead of inspiring me to be creative, it only impairs my ability to focus, leaving me fatigued.

What is currently hindering my writing lately includes:
*Bullet* no fixed time to write
*Bullet* no planned writing “assignment” for the time I decide I’ll sit to write
*Bullet* no deadlines
*Bullet* too many possible things to write

Here’s how I’ve come to understand it: focus is important to our productivity as creative people. If we’re given too many options, our focus ends up fragmented. Creativity does not like fragmentation. ... Creativity thrives within constraints, because constraints give us the gift of focus. ... If we are offered a wide-open world, we can quickly become overwhelmed. So we must narrow it down.


As any other writer can relate to, there are so many ways to procrastinate on writing. The worst is eating. What I’ve also realized is that if I’ve been putting off other things more than twice, they “weigh” on me. I feel physically and mentally sluggish until I get at least one of those other things done. Once I complete even one of those other things, I feel energized to complete another thing or to write.

Benefits of time constraints:
*Bullet* prevents perfectionism, self-criticism and “imposter syndrome”
*Bullet* forces you to focus your attention
*Bullet* applies “pressure to perform” which gets that messy and far-from-perfect first draft done
*Bullet* forces you to think differently
*Bullet* unleashes imagination fostering unfiltered ideas
*Bullet* eliminates opportunity for procrastination

When we demand ourselves to be routinely creative, we need creative routines. ... As a growing body of psychology research shows, structure is the sustenance of creativity. ... The structure that is right for you won’t hinder your freedom, it will instead focus your ingenuity.


What I think would help me, if I could make myself do it, would be to list the small writing projects I want to do and assign a deadline for the first draft of each one. I could block out times for writing that would fit my schedule and start each one with a timed free-write from a prompt to “warm up”. I need a more regular structure to my daily life so I get enough rest, accomplish the non-writing stuff that needs to be done and make time for the reading that will fuel my writing.

Reflect:
*Bullet* Have you detected any patterns in your creative “highs” and “lows”?
*Bullet* Do you take a disciplined approach to writing with a view to earning an income or getting published or do you treat it as a hobby? If you treat it as a hobby, are you satisfied with how much writing you accomplish?
*Bullet* Have you experimented with prompts, with self-imposed deadlines or with some other type of writing constraint? If so, what did you discover?

Sources:
Exploring the Power of Creative Constraints in 5 Examples  
Constraints in Creativity — Are They a Good Thing?  
The science of creativity  
August 2, 2020 at 11:44pm
August 2, 2020 at 11:44pm
#989757
One of Merriam Webster’s definitions for the verb “ to succeed” is “to accomplish what is intended”. A decade or so ago, I was deep in “productivity mode”, measuring my worth by what I accomplished. Any given day during those years, what I “intended” was far beyond most people’s capacity to achieve yet I berated myself for everything on my list that I didn’t get done. I still need to keep a long task list but it’s more to have tasks on paper instead of whirling through my mind. Whoever said that our minds are for thinking not storage, was right on.

Having a good or “successful” day used to mean getting as much done as possible, as perfectly as possible. Getting sick gave me a feeling of relief since I had a great excuse for doing what I felt like doing instead of what I should be doing. It’s hardly surprising that I got sick a whole lot more often during those years than I do now.

This way of living along with a few other issues resulted in a “breakdown”. I was first diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome then later with clinical depression. My planned two weeks off work turned into almost two years. “Success” during the first few months was simply making my bed, taking a shower and getting dressed

I thrive on routine and structure. Though my days look much different now than before I retired, my days are structured around a core set of “categories”. These include: spiritual, chores, study, creative work, service and leisure. Now, during the pandemic lock-down, my “rule of life” has fewer components but it still exists. Fortunately I’m an introvert with a wide variety of interests, so I’m never bored. The challenge is to manage some kind of balance in my various activities and still do things that are less captivating, like housework and self-care.

If succeeding means accomplishing what I intend, then I must be careful to intend what is most in line with what I value while being realistic about my available free time and energy. Deepening my relationship with God, creativity, self-care and using my time well are vital to my sense of well-being.

During these past few months, isolated at home with my husband, my definition of a “successful” day includes (in no particular order):
*Bullet* fulfilling the requirements of my Carmelite vocation
*Bullet* following my food boundaries so as to either lose or maintain my weight
*Bullet* spending time creatively: writing, piano, art on my iPad, or yarn crafts
*Bullet* doing at least one household chore
*Bullet* walking on the treadmill
*Bullet* getting to bed by midnight (which rarely happens)
*Bullet* doing self-care (flossing and remembering to take medication)

Other “successes” that aren’t part of my daily routine include:
*Bullet* resisting the temptation to engage in an unhealthy habit I’m striving to remove
*Bullet* finishing a project I've started
*Bullet* keeping a promise I've made to myself
*Bullet* practicing discipline by doing something I don't feel like doing when I don't feel like doing it because it needs to be done
*Bullet* doing an act of kindness or service
*Bullet* refraining from expressing an opinion, either because it’s not necessary or could offend even if it’s true

Depending on our temperament, time of life, cultural values and perhaps even gender, we’ll have widely different perceptions of what it means to be successful.

Reflect:
*Bullet* What does “success” look like for you?
*Bullet* If you don’t see yourself as successful right now, are you moving in that direction or do you see it as impossible?
*Bullet* If you do see yourself as successful, how have you defined and achieved your success?
*Bullet* What do you believe is the most important requirement to experiencing success?
*Bullet* What do you consider to be the most significant evidence of success?
July 25, 2020 at 10:14pm
July 25, 2020 at 10:14pm
#989140
I've pursued several unrelated interests over the four decades of my adult life that have endured for more than three months. Of these, very few have lasted more than six months, and apart from developing my spiritual life, none have lasted beyond a year. I've returned to a few of them once or twice after a period of several years. I practiced some regularly for a few months then dropped them again and others I played around with more sporadically.

In no particular order and aside from writing, I've pursued these interests for a period of three to six months:
*Bullet* using a program to transcribe books into Braille
*Bullet* learning about Linux so I could ditch Windows
*Bullet* weight loss, nutrition and fitness so I could drop 30 pounds
*Bullet* knitting and crocheting squares to be made into blankets for charity
*Bullet* learning to play piano with chords and rhythm patterns so I could compose worship songs
*Bullet* collecting and sharing spiritual quotes on social media
*Bullet* studying apologetics, logic, and algebra

I'd still like to learn Latin, advanced music theory, and how to create Android or iOS apps. Are you wondering yet if I have ADD? Even after three months of isolation due to the pandemic, boredom’s not been an issue. I love classics, fantasy, and historical romance novels. The only way I find time for them is to listen to audiobooks while doing housework or working out on the treadmill.

My favourite definition of a passion is something you're willing to suffer for. It's something for which you're willing to give up other enjoyable activities in order to make time to do it. It's more than a "strong interest" because even a strong interest dies when shot with obstacles and challenges.

A passion isn't necessarily a single activity, nor is it a goal. It's rooted in your soul, a value, or maybe several related values. I've identified the "mission statement" for my life: to become all that God designed me to be and to reflect His truth, beauty and goodness in every area of my life.

Flowing from this, my core values are:
*Bullet* pursuing physical, emotional and mental wellness
*Bullet* maintaining internal balance and focus
*Bullet* using my gifts to provide something of value to others

We don’t just pour our efforts into our heart’s desire, but we also can learn to feel passionate about that which we put effort toward. --Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D
THE SECRET TO DEVELOPING PASSIONS (RATHER THAN SEARCHING FOR THEM, LIKE NEEDLES IN A HAYSTACK)  

If this is true, I'll never develop a passion because I have so many interests and they're like reflecting sunlight on a brook - bright, beautiful and entirely unstable. I don't need to discover my passion; there's abundant advice on how to do that. Rather, I need to settle on one interest or combine a few and develop a passion from these.

How do I decide which of these to focus on when any one I choose means I have to sacrifice at least one or two others that I'm equally interested in? I have more time than most people since I'm retired and have few other commitments, especially with the pandemic eliminating our social lives. Still, there are a limited number of daily hours available to pursue any of these and I already go to bed long after midnight.

No matter which direction I take, there'll come a time when it gets difficult. I've never been great at persevering through this stage, either from laziness or a lack of self-confidence. If failure is defined as giving up, I've had a lot of failures. I've had two successes at weight loss and both of these were because I wanted it badly enough. As fascinating as I find any of these activities, I don't know if my interest is as powerful and as compelling as my desire was to lose weight.

I've reviewed at least 10 articles about "discovering your passion" and several of them offered a list of questions to help you figure this out. If this were a puzzle to be solved or a treasure map to follow, here's where I'd look for clues:
1. What's the most expensive item on your wish list? Or which category describes the majority of items on this list?
2. What "unnecessary" thing do you regularly spend money on?
3. What books are on your shelf or e-reader or audiobook account?
4. Which podcasts do you subscribe to?
5. What sites are in your bookmarks? Or what categories of articles are in your Instapaper, or in your Pocket account?
6. During your workday, what do you most look forward to doing when you leave?
7. What will you stay up past your bedtime to do?
8. What do you yearn to do when you get enough time (when the kids are grown and gone or when you've retired)?
9. What do you never want to do, if you have a choice about it? (Example: sell stuff, speak publicly, or do anything on a computer)
10. What do you most often procrastinate doing other than preparing taxes and visiting the dentist?

If it's true that your passion will always "come back to you", then writing could be it for me, or at least in part. This is the third time in my life where I've devoted six months or more of consistent effort to writing. There are other things that I've come back to but nothing I've persevered with for more than a few weeks.

At the time I'm writing this, I've maintained my focus on writing for 10 months. I've posted more than 50 articles on my Writing.com blog and about 12 on my WordPress blog. I'm still posting to each of these weekly. Since I'm also considering creating a third one that will focus on Catholic spirituality and apologetics. maybe I won't turn aside from writing to something that seems more interesting. Writing will remain my strongest focus for the foreseeable future. It will never be my only focus – and it doesn’t need to be.

Reflection:
*Bullet*When you suddenly have a lot of free time, are you excited or bored?
*Bullet*Do you have a hobby that is your main focus or do you struggle to balance several competing interests?
*Bullet*If you feel pressured to “find your passion”, how do you deal with it?


July 20, 2020 at 12:10am
July 20, 2020 at 12:10am
#988637
After a couple of months in lock-down due to the pandemic, I decided to return to Sudoku puzzles. A few years before I retired I was solving a lot of them. Whenever I try something new, I try to find guidance so I can be as proficient as possible.

One useful tool is the Simple Sudoku program that only works on the Windows platform. I use this to enter puzzles from books. I use the “Print Plain” option to print them large enough for me to work with. When I make errors while solving, I can identify them, use my eraser, then continue solving from that point. If I get stuck, I can use the “Print With Candidates” option and work from that to finish solving. The program does have a button which provides hints. These are often more cryptic than helpful.

I read plenty of books and watched quite a few videos, seeking tips for solving Sudoku puzzles. A lot of what’s available is somewhat helpful but mostly confusing. In my search for better solving strategies, I discovered Chad Barker, the Sudoku Professor. He has a unique and very useful approach to solving Sudoku puzzles.

Nothing compares to Chad’s videos for ease of understanding, simplicity and effectiveness. His explanations are clear and methodical. In every lesson, he covers the entire puzzle and explains each step of his thought process. He provides PDFs of the puzzles he uses for each lesson so you can print it and follow along. In many of the lessons, he also provides an exercise puzzle and video reviewing the exercise. The only downside to his method is that it won’t work on any electronic version of Sudoku; it has to be pencil and paper.

It is not enough to just watch the videos to gain real skill. Practice is essential and he recommends puzzles that have been published in books or newspapers. Nevertheless, I have found the puzzles freely available at KrazyDad.com to be very good. After extended periods away from Sudoku, I’m finding it very worthwhile to review the videos. Watching them, even for a third or fourth time, I noticed very helpful tips I’d forgotten.

When I first purchased his lessons, there were four levels: Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior. If you want to solve easy to intermediate puzzles, you’d probably find the Sudoku Essentials and the Bachelor level to be more than sufficient. If you’re really into Sudoku, his higher level courses are worth the investment.

The Bachelor level is what corresponds to the four lesson levels I originally purchased. The new levels are:
*Bullet* Master’s Prep
*Bullet* Master’s
*Bullet* Doctorate
*Bullet* Mistake Eliminator

In order to do this review, I signed up with a different email. As soon as I did, a web page appeared with two videos that together provide the first of four free lessons. The first free lesson is available immediately after signing up. It covers the “1 through 9 technique”. It’s often the only way to get enough information to make progress on a medium or intermediate puzzle.

The second free lesson continues the “1 through 9 technique” and explains the power of two of his pencil-marking techniques. He gives different labels to some number patterns which are more descriptive and explains how identifying them hlelps you solve other cells in the row, column or box. In this lesson he covers the “double-double” which most Sudoku books refer to as a “naked pair”.

In the third free lesson, he covers the next step which involves looking at what is missing in rows or columns with fewer than 5 empty spaces. This is covered in later lessons as the “Think Outside the Box” technique. He also reinforces the pencil-marking techniques.

The fourth (and final) free lesson highlights the problems with some other solving techniques, especially what Chad calls the "Brute Force" technique where you start by identifying and pencil-marking all the possible candidates for each empty cell.

There are a few problems with this:
*Bullet* It is tedious, killing any real chance of enjoying the game.
*Bullet* It hides, rather than highlights, useful information.
*Bullet* Errors are very likely.
*Bullet* It provides little help for easy puzzles and is useless for harder ones.

When you click the button at the bottom of this last lesson, you see that the Bachelor level course is 50% off for three days, a typical marketing gimmick. Even 50% off is still $97. You have to be pretty committed to Sudoku to pay that much. I paid $70 for what is now the Bachelor course about six years ago and found it worthwhile since I was doing a lot of easy to medium level Sudoku. You may not do as many but perhaps you want to solve much harder ones. If so, you won't find any better help anywhere else.

Check out these resources


Sudoku Professor:
*Bullet* Sign up for free lessons Get 4 lessons free  
*Bullet* Courses and cost {x-link:https://www.sudokuprofessor.com/products/}Sudoku Curriculum}

Simple Sudoku
*Bullet* Download program created by Angus Johnson  
*Bullet* Simple Sudoku Guide Angus Johnson’s Guide to solving Sudoku  

Places to get puzzles
*Bullet* KrazyDad Sudoku puzzles  
*Bullet* Astraware app and puzzles  

Other
Sudoku Forum  



July 12, 2020 at 12:10am
July 12, 2020 at 12:10am
#987884
I came across some articles about why we write where one author, in particular, said that many writers have never articulated to themselves why they write. I’ve gone through periods where I wrote a lot and regularly, followed by years, even decades, of no writing at all. I first started writing in high school.

My English teacher told me to never stop writing because I had talent. I didn’t follow her advice. I was in my 40s by the time I took it up for a couple of years and then dropped it again for almost two decades. Now, in my 60s, I’ve returned to it, hopefully to stay with it this time. Instead of wondering why I kept giving it up, a more interesting question is why do I keep returning to it?

Last summer, after helping a friend write a cover letter, there was a stirring within me to return to writing. I re-activated my membership with Writing.com (WDC) and entered a few contests. Something had shifted in me. I had no interest in fiction; creating plots and characters no longer appealed to me. Since I enjoy reading fiction, this makes no sense to me. However, even nine months later, this hasn’t changed.

Since WDC offers a blog space, I decided to see how regularly I would publish posts on it. I’ve never been good at sticking with things for long since I have so many interests so imagine my amazement when I’d produced two posts per week from August until December then one post weekly since the beginning of 2020. I’ve also written a few essays for WDC contests with good results.

So now I know what I’m meant to write: relatively short non-fiction. The question of why I want to write is linked to the question of who I want to write for. The topics that I write about are pieces of that puzzle. My ideal reader, or “avatar”, is someone who shares my interests and is passionate about learning new things.

If I find myself wondering how important writing is to me, my feelings about it are no reliable guide. I need to look at how much time I spend creating new content or doing “writing-related” activities in the past week; has this increased, stayed constant or decreased? It’s not how I feel about an activity, it’s how much time I spend doing it that truthfully indicates how important it is to me now.

On days where I don’t feel like creating something new, I want to still do something related to writing. I’m afraid that, otherwise, I’ll lose my “momentum” and not be able to get it back. I’ve invested so much time and energy into writing this time around that I don’t want to risk wasting it. Having created a “real” blog on Wordpress.com is helping because it’s a commitment to real and potential readers.

When it comes to fresh writing that isn’t for one of the WDC contests, I write about things I’ve discovered and encourage my readers to take opportunities to learn and to engage in critical thinking. I express my opinion about something important to me or share a perspective that is counter-cultural.

Sharing discoveries
I’ve been writing some book reviews, and plan to review a few sites and products. I like to share things I discover. When it comes to sharing information, I like to research a topic, to break it down and summarize it in a way that enables my readers to move from complete bewilderment to, hopefully, a basic general understanding.

Support learning and thinking
Besides pointing readers to free opportunities to learn online, I write to encourage critical thinking. I’ve written about pseudoscience, navigating the nutrition maze, and dealing with over-abundant contradictory advice on a topic.

Stating opinions
I’m not interested in controversies and debates. I just share my insights and values. If others can relate or if it helps them to know that they’re not alone in how they view a situation or practice, that’s a blessing for both of us. For those who see things differently, they have good reasons for their perspective. An example of this would be the article I wrote about consuming news media.

Suggesting new perspectives
We sabotage ourselves in so many ways. Our beliefs and attitudes shape how we behave and the habits that keep us from reaching our goals. I like to point the flashlight in a new direction. My article Let “good enough” BE enough suggests that getting the task accomplished is better than waiting forever for it to be “perfect”.

The writing I’ve done since last summer has given me a sense of who I’m writing for. It’s revealing some things that I’m passionate about. One of these things is “truth”, something I believe is absolute, not relative. I know I want to continue to write whether or not I ever see evidence that anyone has read my articles. That is one indication of how important writing is to me now.

Reflections for others who write:
*Bullet* Have you ever listed the reasons why you write?
*Bullet* Do you know how important writing is to you?
*Bullet* What genres of writing are you drawn to and which ones don’t interest you in the least?

July 5, 2020 at 12:22am
July 5, 2020 at 12:22am
#987253
After considering the advice to “write every day” and some other useless tidbits, I want to share what I found most interesting and useful for someone who doesn’t write consistently, who does not want to give up, and who wants to figure out where writing fits into her life plan. After reading a lot of articles, I grouped the most interesting tips I found into three categories:
*Bullet* Staying in the flow
*Bullet* Improving your craft
*Bullet* Maintaining motivation

Ways to stay “in the flow” when writing drafts:
*Bullet* Put your mobile devices in airplane mode and disconnect your laptop from the WiFi.
*Bullet* Turn off spelling and grammar checkers.
*Bullet* Prepare a general outline or mind map before starting a first draft.
*Bullet* Write TK as a marker for where you need to add or edit something later and move on.
*Bullet* Put your editing voice in “lock down”.

Removing potential distractions and having at least a general sense of direction when I start the first draft is obvious. The TK tip is something I’d never have thought of. I can search for it when I’m ready to edit. The fact that something will need attention doesn’t have to prevent me from finishing the draft. The hardest part of writing is keeping my editing voice quiet. Writing the TK in places reassures my inner editor that she’ll get her chance later; she can go chill somewhere else until I’m ready for her help.

Improving your craft:
*Bullet* Become a grammar expert.
*Bullet* Increase your vocabulary.
*Bullet* Increase your typing speed.
*Bullet* Practice writing headlines.

I’m reasonably good at grammar and there’s definitely room for improvement. I have the Elements of Style and a workbook to go with it that I’ve not opened yet. I completed a Foundations of Grammar course at Lynda.com (freely available through my local library membership). I want to improve my grammar skills but I don’t aspire to be an expert. There are various style guides out there and they’re massive! I don’t write for an income so I don’t need to be a “Grammar Guru”.

Learning new words can be more fun than work. You don’t need to use uncommon words but it’s important to know what they mean so that you don’t misuse them. Since the average reading level is at about the 8th grade, you might wonder why to bother increasing your vocabulary. Because I’m a writer, I’m fascinated with the power and meaning of words. Words are for a writer what flour is for a baker.

I learned touch-typing in high school so I don’t really need to work at increasing it unless I decide to do freelance transcription or data entry. There are plenty of apps available to help you learn or improve your typing skill. I’d definitely do it if I were a 2-finger typist so that my fingers could keep up with my ideas. I can type much faster than I write by hand. At the same time, there is a different “feel” to handwriting that works better than typing, depending on what state I’m in.

Getting better at writing headlines is vital for a blogger but not necessary for someone who writes fiction or poetry. My headlines definitely need improvement if they are to catch any reader’s interest. It would be absolutely essential if I was freelance writing for marketers, something completely unappealing.

Maintain your motivation and momentum by doing at least one of these activities each day:
*Bullet* Do research for a future piece of writing.
*Bullet* Plan an article or chapter or do a character sketch.
*Bullet* Write a first draft for something, or do some free writing based on a prompt.
*Bullet* Edit an earlier draft written at least one or two days ago.
*Bullet* Read something from your writing genre or about the writing craft.
*Bullet* Engage with other writers.
*Bullet* Participate in an online writing community such as Writing.com  

I’ve had series of days where I didn’t do any of these things and I didn’t like the result. The more days I neglected writing, the harder it was to return to it. If, during these “off” days, I did too many “left-brain” activities like Sudoku puzzles, I was less inclined to write than if I did something more creative like colouring on my iPad. I don’t write fiction but even reading a novel is better than Sudoku because I’m still engaging with someone else’s writing.

When I read too many articles or listen to too many podcasts by professional writers whose goal is to help you succeed in your writing “career”, I feel drained and start wondering why I’m bothering to write at all. I compare my “drive” with theirs and realize that I’m not part of their intended audience. I want to be a “hobby writer”. I want writing to be a significant part of my life but I never intended it to “be” my life. Either I’ll always be a person who juggles many interests or I haven’t yet found my all-consuming “passion”. I find myself forgetting that it’s OK for writing to not be the sum total of my life.

Reflection:
*Bullet* Do you know why you want to write and who your audience would be?}
*Bullet* Which, if any, of the tips in this article are new to you?
*Bullet* Which aspect of writing do you find the most challenging?
*Bullet* If you don’t write or do writing-related activities regularly, what helps you to get back to writing?
*Bullet* If writing is just a “hobby” for you, is this what you want or do you dream of earning income from it?
June 28, 2020 at 11:34pm
June 28, 2020 at 11:34pm
#986737
After decades of being “outcome focused”, I’d come to a point in my life where the process is more important than “getting stuff done”. I started with goals where I had no control over the outcome and switched to goals which were about concrete things I could achieve regardless of other factors. Only in the past few years have I focused on a few key long-term goals. These direct my strategy and choices about where I will focus my efforts. In Atomic Habits, James Clear distinguishes between the goal or result and the process or system that moves you in the direction of your goals.

Prevailing wisdom claims that the best way to achieve what we want in life—getting into better shape, building a successful business, relaxing more and worrying less, spending more time with friends and family—is to set specific, actionable goals. ... Eventually, I began to realize that my results had very little to do with the goals I set and nearly everything to do with the systems I followed. ... Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results.


After putting goals in their proper and most useful context, he expresses how important it is to attach your identity to the habit you want to build. Habits that benefit us have the reward at the end; unhelpful habits have the reward at the beginning. Playing video games provide immediate pleasure and no later reward or benefit. Doing your daily exercise has no immediate pleasure but provides a reward after repeating the action regularly over an extended period of time.

James suggests getting some immediate pleasure from exercise by attaching it to an aspect of your identity: “You are a person who does not miss workouts”. When you do your workout, you are casting a vote for this growing identity. If you miss one scheduled workout, forgive yourself and make sure you don’t miss the next one. This works for breaking a bad habit, or at least reducing its frequency. Concerning weight management one identity statement could be either: “I am not a person who eats junk food” or “I am a person who eats 90% healthy foods”. When I eat carrots instead of cookies, I’m casting a vote for either or both of these identities.

Your habits embody your identity. Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become. The most practical way to change who you are is to change what you do. Habits are not about having something, they are about becoming someone.


In his book, he describes the “atomic” habits we start with as being extremely small in terms of time and effort. One example he gave was of a morbidly obese man who went to the gym with the rule that he could only stay for 5 minutes for the first several weeks. The point wasn’t to exercise, it was to develop the habit of “showing up”.

Even when you know you should start small, it’s easy to start too big. When you dream about making a change, excitement inevitably takes over and you end up trying to do too much too soon. The most effective way I know to counteract this tendency is to use the Two-Minute Rule, which states, “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” You’ll find that nearly any habit can be scaled down into a two-minute version. ... The idea is to make your habits as easy as possible to start.


If I wanted to develop the habit of writing every day, I could start with writing 3 sentences every day in my bullet journal. There are already several days a week when I want to write a lot more than that. This is for the days that I don’t want to write at all. On those days, I could write 3 sentences about anything at all.

On the other hand, if I wanted to develop the habit of practicing the piano every day, I normally would have put together a practice “routine” that would take at least 45 minutes to complete. Instead, I could choose one of the components of that routine. After the end of the second week, I would add one or two more pieces. It isn’t about how much I do, it’s about developing the habit of sitting at the piano, turning it on, putting on the earphones and putting my fingers on the keys. The “gateway habit” is doing that one piece of my routine.

What you want is a “gateway habit” that naturally leads you down a more productive path. ... Your goal might be to run a marathon, but your gateway habit is to put on your running shoes. That’s how you follow the Two-Minute Rule. ... People often think it’s weird to get hyped about reading one page or meditating for one minute or making one sales call. But the point is not to do one thing. The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved. If you can’t learn the basic skill of showing up, then you have little hope of mastering the finer details. Instead of trying to engineer a perfect habit from the start, do the easy thing on a more consistent basis. You have to standardize before you can optimize.


He gives more detailed strategies for developing beneficial habits and breaking those that sabotage us. Instead of relying on self-control to eliminate a habit, he suggests removing the cues. Don’t buy the junk food, remove the app from your phone or tablet. Make the habit as inconvenient as possible. When it comes to developing good habits, make it obvious, attractive and satisfying. Tying the habit to your identity is one way to make it satisfying.
This doesn’t cover all of the gems in Atomic Habits. I highly recommend it. It was worth reading slowly and taking notes for further reflection. It validated my intuitive sense that goals were not what I needed, at least not in the way I was using them. There are some interview videos on YouTube where he explains how he gained the wisdom he shares. After watching them, I was more motivated to read the book.
Atomic Habits-Amazon  
Use ATOMIC HABITS to Change Your LIFE! 10 Rules  
Summary of Atomic Habits by Sam Thomas Davies  
Interview with James Clear  
June 21, 2020 at 5:05pm
June 21, 2020 at 5:05pm
#986143
When we’re learning a new skill, insecurity compels us to seek “expert” advice. From the abundance of free advice online there are three categories in which any one counsel or admonition will fall:
1. It is absolutely essential for everyone who expects to succeed to follow it
2. It is either extremely useful or seriously detrimental depending on various factors that the advisor has no clue about
3. It is offered by those with neither knowledge nor experience and therefore is universally useless.

The advice: “Real writers write every day without exception” falls into the second category. I have mixed feelings about it. I can see the value in at least doing something related to writing daily. When I don’t write for a couple of days, I feel a loss of momentum and I struggle to get back to it. Yet, I find quite a few problems with this advice. Some insist that you write a certain number of words each day and others suggest writing for a specific amount of time. I would never give this advice to an aspiring writer.

What counts as “writing”?
Does it have to be completely new, a first draft of something? I have no specific project and no idea what I should write about most days. Does research or preparing an outline or editing a previous draft count? I’ve not seen any post advising daily writing that addresses these questions.
My time is far too valuable to waste writing garbage just for the sake of meeting some arbitrary word count or time limit. I’d use my time more effectively by reading a book or blog post about writing or by working on an online writing or grammar course.

Who gets to define a “real” writer?
There’s no professional body that exists to accredit, license or discipline writers as there is for doctors. Therefore, in a sense, there is no such thing as “professional” writers. Is it an issue of being paid to write? If so, how much and how often must you be paid to qualify as a “real” writer? Do you have to quit your day job and support yourself solely on your income from writing? What about a writer who didn’t make enough to quit his day job until his novel was turned into a movie? Wasn’t he a writer before then?
Becoming a Real Writer: What’s a Real Writer?

Why does my creative process need to be defined by someone else?
Depending on our obligations and life’s demands, there will be days where there is neither time nor energy to write and other days where we have both. A daily writing routine is challenging to maintain for some of us and impossible for others. Depending on our temperament and how we function, some of us can write in short bursts of 5 minutes here and there and others need a block of at least 20 minutes to settle into a creative inner space to get any writing done. Unless I’m particularly inspired, I need to be in a separate room and uninterrupted for at least 20-30 minutes.

What’s the point in setting myself up to fail?
If I resolve to write every day for 15 minutes or to write 200 words, I might do it for 2 weeks. Or it’s more likely that I’d only do it for two days. Then I’ll have “programmed” my brain to believe that writing every day is not useful. I may come to believe after multiple attempts that I should give up writing altogether.
If you’re not a full time writer (like King and Lamott), this is terrible advice. This strategy will, in fact, reduce the probability that you finish your writing project. ... In my experience as a writer with a day job, I’ve found it’s crucial to avoid rigid writing schedules. I don’t want to provide my brain any examples of a strategy related to my writing that’s failing. ... The point is that I commit to plans that I know can succeed, and by doing so, I keep my brain’s motivation centers on board with the project. ... To leverage the psychology of your brain, you need to instead choose clear goals that you clearly know how to accomplish, and then approach scheduling with flexibility. Be aggressive, but remain grounded in the reality of your schedule. If your mind thinks you have a good goal and sees your short terms plans are working, it will keep you motivated toward completion.
Cal Newport

How useful is it to force yourself to write every day?
Obviously you may have to do this if you have a contract deadline to meet. This is highly unlikely for new aspiring writers. I’ve entered a few contests so I’ve written to a deadline but I don’t know if I’d want that kind of pressure on a regular basis. Once my confidence significantly increases, I may consider freelance writing. I likely would then have to write on more days than I do now and for more hours on those days. I still would not write every day. If I was able to get any freelance clients at all, I certainly wouldn’t wonder whether or not I was a “real” writer!

Are you a “real writer? Hint: the answer is YES!
You don’t have to write every day to be a “real” writer. You just have to write consistently. If you’re able to write every day, then do it. A mechanic is no less a mechanic by working three days a week. During this pandemic, he’s likely not working at all. I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him he is no longer a mechanic!

Writing is important to me but it is not the only thing in my life. It’s probably not the only thing in your life either. If you’re blogging in any serious ways, you’ve got plenty of writing-related tasks. Even without that, you have other things in your life that matter. On some days, these other things will matter more to you than writing. You’re still a “real” writer.

Sources:
{x-link:http://sevenscribes.com/writing-begins-with-forgiveness-why-one-of-the-most-common-pieces-of-writing-advice-is-wrong/}Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice Is Wrong
{x-link:https://www.well-storied.com/blog/is-a-daily-writing-routine-right-for-you}Is a Daily Writing Routine Right for You?{/x-lnk}
“Write Every Day” is Bad Advice: Hacking the Psychology of Big Projects  

{x-link:https://nathanieltower.com/should-you-write-every-day-a-close-look-at-the-oldest-piece-of-writing-advice/}Should You Write Every Day? A Close Look at the Oldest Piece of Writing Advice
June 15, 2020 at 10:06am
June 15, 2020 at 10:06am
#985694
When I buy something new, I always read the instruction manual. I do it when the device is completely new. I do it when I’m replacing something I’ve used for decades. I read the manual that came with the last microwave I bought even though I got my first one in the early 1980s. Who knows what feature I might miss otherwise? So when I decided to return to writing after about 15 years away from it, I started looking for advice about how to do it effectively. Since I’d already realized that fiction is off the plate, this process would be less overwhelming.

My first roadblock came with contradictory advice. I came across the concept of “morning pages” when I was looking for articles about increasing my creativity or removing any creative blocks. Doing them exactly the way that Julia Cameron dictates in The Artist’s Way simply did not appeal to me so I wanted to know if other people tweaked this tool to work for them. If I didn’t do this in exactly her way, would it be completely ineffective and a total misuse of my limited free time? Can I adapt it and have it still be somewhat helpful? Is the whole idea a bad fit for me and, therefore, not worth doing at all?

I’ve found a lot of writing advice with some items contradicting other ones. At least one article suggested not looking for writing advice and spending that time writing. Yet, much of what I found is worth following. I’ll share about all of that in another post. Some of it is useful for others but it doesn’t work for me. Some of it is no good for anyone. The three “hazardous” suggestions were: writing with a full bladder, ignoring hunger and quitting your day job to be a “real” writer.

If my bladder is full, my mind ceases to function, period. If I’m “in the flow”, I don’t notice hunger, but I wouldn’t ignore what my body needs. That’s not how I’d go about weight loss. Being retired, I no longer have a “day job”, but I’d never consider quitting it if I did so as to be a “real writer”. I already am a “real writer”. Still, I’d have taken a few days here and there to get an extra long weekend, giving me the opportunity to focus on writing if I had a deadline.

Bad advice for all writers: Spelling and grammar checking software will solve all my writing problems.
Spelling and grammar are not the whole of writing. There is syntax and sentence structure, not to mention the quality of the content itself. A spell-checker will not detect “too” when you meant to use “to” or “through” when you meant to use “though”. Nothing replaces the human editor who carefully examines the text and also reads it aloud so as to catch any awkward phrasing.

Useful for other writers but not for me: “Challenge yourself to write something in a much shorter time than normal. “
I don’t find that applying speed helps any task to be done well, much less something creative. I understand the usefulness of shutting off the inner editor when writing a first draft so that you’re not fixing it up as you write it. I get around that by writing with pen and paper with no extra space between my lines. I’m never tempted to edit when I write this way because I know I’ll type it up in a day or two and edit as I’m doing that. I see the value in setting a timer and writing for the duration, but I do it in a slow and relaxed way. I only write at a quicker pace when my hand can barely keep up with my ideas. Although I can type faster than I can write, the ideas don’t flow through my keyboard as they do through my pen.

The most common advice is to write every day. I wrote a detailed response to this in another post where I shared my personal experience with this and the result. I disagree with those who imply or say outright that you’re not a “real writer” if you don’t write every day.

If it hinders you, takes you down the wrong path, fucks with (disputes) your creative process, causes more confusion than clarity, that’s bad advice. So when you’re sorting the good from the bad, go with your gut, and don’t let anyone bully you into their way of thinking, regardless of how credible, famous, or experienced they are. --How to Spot Bad Writing Advice: 6 Red Flags to Look For


Reflection:
*Bullet* Do you look for advice when you’re trying something new or do you jump in and try your hand at it?
*Bullet* Do you find yourself able to draw out the treasure from the trash in the advice your net scoops up? If not, why do you find this discernment difficult to do?
*Bullet* What piece of writing advice do you most regret following and why?

Sources
How to Spot Bad Writing Advice: 6 Red Flags to Look For  
The Worst Writing Advice on the Web  
11 Types of Bad Writing Advice  
{x-link:restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires}HOW TO WRITE FASTER: 10 CRAFTY WAYS TO HIT 1,000 WORDS PER HOUR{/x-link}
HOW TO WRITE ON PAPER FASTER & BETTER  
{x-link:https://becomeawritertoday.com/rollerball-vs-ballpoint-pens/}Rollerball vs Ballpoint Pens: A Guide{x-link}
June 6, 2020 at 12:55am
June 6, 2020 at 12:55am
#985088
If you get really lucky and succeed almost immediately at a new skill, project or venture, how much can you have learned in that process? Here are a few things this experience did not teach you:
• How to accept the need to ask for help.
• How to start over if you didn’t get the result you wanted
• How to cope with and recover from initial, and possibly multiple, failures.
• How to forgive yourself for mistakes, maintain your confidence and fix what did not work.
• How to tune out negative messages from yourself or from others.
• How to recognize and benefit from constructive feedback from experts or from mentors.
• How to sift through contradictory advice from various sources.
• How to know when you’ve done enough research then to follow your intuition to move forward.
• How to avoid comparing your progress with others in your field who started at the same time as you did.
• How to discipline yourself to take the next step when all you feel like doing is surfing social media, binge-watching Netflix or playing video games.

Significant setbacks, minor disasters and/or progress that is much slower than you want or expect are all opportunities to grow and learn. They are not occasions for complaining, comparison or self-condemnation, behaviours that seem to be our default setting. In addition to signalling the need for reassessment, these challenges can push you to increase your knowledge and skills through courses, conferences and coaching.

When you hit a small or large speed-bump, it is time to reflect and to develop clarity about the specific result you are seeking. Consider carefully why it matters and how important it is for your short-term goals and long-range plans. If you don’t have a clear vision of your destination and a sense of the milestones along the way, how will you recognize your progress or catch yourself chasing distractions because you’re afraid to miss out on something important?

Slow progress provides the necessary time to develop skills through frequently and regularly repeating the same set of tasks while always considering ways to improve your processes. If you’re a marketer, it’s sales calls; if you’re an author, it’s writing, if you’re a blogger, it’s writing, image creation, and website management. It requires an acceptance of boredom, a tolerance for frustration and a willingness to tackle tedious tasks daily for years.

An extended delay gives the seed of passion time to grow. When it takes a lot longer than we like to get the result that we want, our desire intensifies. The longer we must wait and the more it costs in time, energy and sacrifices of other things which we value, the more we’ll appreciate the success when it arrives.

Reflection:
*Question* Are you currently enjoying success at something you’ve wanted and worked toward for a long time? What things or activities did you give up to make it happen?
*Question* Are you working toward a dream now? Have you clearly defined in your mind what it will be like and why you want it? Have you written it all down?
*Question* Have you given up on a dream after working at it for a while? Why did you decide that it either wasn’t worth the effort, or that you weren’t capable of making it happen? Were you afraid of failure, of success, or maybe, of both?

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