Monthly Archives: June 2012

Brilliant Advice for any Creative Endeavor

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I have a board on Pinterest for Writing stuff. It is fairly empty, because I don’t find a whole lot of pictures that really convey good writing advice. Maybe I am not looking in the right places though, because the pin above is one of the greatest pieces of advice I have ever seen.

This gets exactly at my problem with fiction writing for sure. I write stuff, I re-read it, maybe I even do some editing and re-read again, and then I begin to despair. My stuff is so bad! Objectively, I know it isn’t totally terrible, but it certainly isn’t good. I also know that continuing to work and practice and learn the craft is the only way to get any better, but it is hard to keep that in mind when I am feeling that despair. It begins to feel like the time and effort is pointless.

The crazy thing is, I am not like this with other things. When I started playing racquetball, I was terrible. I am significantly better now, but since I was so terrible to begin with, I am still pretty bad at it. This does not diminish my enjoyment of the game in any way. I am getting exercise and learning how to do better, it is a really fun game, and that is enough.

In fact, I make it a practice to learn new things often, in part just to demonstrate this concept to my kids (and incidentally to myself). I want my kids to see me doing something I am no good at and then see me keep working on it until I get better. Kids sometimes think that things should be easy when they see their parents and other adults doing things relatively easily all the time. They weren’t around when we were making mistakes and learning, so they don’t realize how much work went into those accomplishments. My kids are pretty smart, too, which almost makes it worse–there are many school activities that come easily to them, so when things are difficult it is even more uncomfortable for them, and they sometimes want to give up quickly.

When things are hard for them, I always tell them there is only one way to get better–keep trying. I also remind them that it is not surprising that they aren’t very good at something they just started doing. And, I encourage them to continue adding difficulty when they master a level of any given activity. I am encouraging and supportive. Most of the time, when I am learning new things myself, I model the behavior I would like to see them adopt–I don’t get upset, I look at what I did wrong and how I can make improvements, and I keep going.

I need to start applying this to fiction writing, which is something I have always wanted to do, since I was very young–practically before I could actually write at all. I have written about reframing my perspective on ongoing tasks here before (Practice, Learning to Love the Process), but I need to make a concerted effort to apply it in this area. If I keep the quote above in mind, I can then apply the skills of practicing without a huge attachment to the end result, and focus on incremental improvement. I am thinking about printing it out, framing it, and placing it on my desk for a constant reminder.

Now I just need to set up some goals, make this kind of writing a habit, and start churning out that work. Of course, for the work to be meaningful, I need to make sure I am editing and working on improvement, not just putting words on a page, but that is not something I have trouble doing. The initial words on the page, or writing more than a page or so at a time is what is hard. So, I think I need to start with just getting work done, and not worry yet about volume. If I am writing fiction at all, it is success. After a while of this, I will surely gain confidence and be able to increase this goal.

Menu Plan, Week of 6/18

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I got up at 5:29 this morning to take the girl to cheerleading practice. This is much earlier than I am used to, but I am finding that I like the extra time. I can get so many things done before the time I am usually even out of bed! However, The Muny season opens tonight, so I don’t think I will be getting up so early tomorrow. We’ll see how long I can keep up the early morning hours–hopefully these two weeks of early morning practices will be enough to shift my schedule at least a little bit earlier.

Planning considerations for this week:

  • Muny on Monday, nothing too heavy before we sit outside in the heat.
  • Racquetball at 6:30 on Tuesday, with a required stop at GameStop to pick up the Lego Batman game that the boy reserved last week. We will need something that the girl can cook before I get home and we can eat fast or take with us.
  • I am trying to avoid the store before payday on Thursday. I could buy a few things, but I would rather use what we have first.


Monday: Corn pasta with butternut squash pasta sauceand chicken tenderloins

Asian Slaw with Ginger Peanut Dressing, Image from Once Upon a Chef

Tuesday: Italian sausages, baby carrots

Wednesday: Lentils and rice with caramelized onion tahini sauce, honey hot sauce chicken tenders

Thursday: Salmon noodle casserole, steamed broccoli

Friday: Pizza

Saurday: BBQ brats, artichokes, asian slaw with ginger peanut dressing

What are you having this week?

As always, this post will be linked to Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com–lots more ideas over there!

Energy Management

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For the last few years, my company has presented a series of seminars for low-level managers to increase our leadership skills. Really, they are a combination of a forum for senior management to make sure we are all on the same page.and seminars from outside consultants. The senior management messages are generally interesting, and it is good to get a window into what our senior management is thinking, the seminars are what make the whole thing amazing.

Last year, Dr. Jack Groppel spoke to us for the first time (he came back this year) and he actually came to my location in St. Louis, so I got to see him in person. This may sound incredibly cheesy, but I don’t care: that talk literally changed my life, both at work and home.

The crux of the Corporate Athlete premise that he presented that day is that managing your energy levels is the key to productivity in anything that you do. This means physical energy of course, but also mental, emotional and spiritual energy. So, I am trying to stand up once every hour at least and do as much exercise and healthy eating as I can to maintain my physical energy, but I also have to work on those other areas for optimal engagement with what I do.

An exercise we did in that first seminar was focused on changing the stories we tell ourselves. The structure of the worksheet was basically “I would like to do ( x ). I don’t because ( y ) But the truth is ( z ).” A simplified example would be “I’d like to write more, but I don’t because I don’t have time, and anyway I would be terrible at it. Buy the truth is, I am not a terrible writer, and I can get better through practice. Plus, I could definitely watch less TV.”

The first thing I did after that seminar was spend some time figuring out what I would actually like to do with my time, starting with a more fleshed out version of that example above. I like my job, but I was most concerned about my out of work time–I felt that I was not spending that time wisely, using most of my energy at work. I made goals and started to look a how to make progress toward those goals. I started writing for GamingAngels, to give myself a wider outlet for my writing, and I started posting more here. I also decided I didn’t want to give up TV entirely, but in order to earn TV time, I had to do something else at the same time, usually either exercise or some form of crafting. That way the time felt a bit more useful to me.

In order to fit more into my personal time, I needed to do that energy management thing. I started on my quest with the fitbit not too long after that seminar, and I found that it really did help. I was a bit more tired at first, but that actually helped, too, because I slept better at night, and I quickly found I had more energy. I got better about planning time with friends and family, too, in order to keep my emotional energy up.

As I worked on these things, I found that I did get more done, and the benefits also spilled over to my work. My work life hadn’t been in as bad shape as my personal time–that was where I was using most of my energy–but the extra energy helped take my work from decent to pretty good. There are still stressors, but somehow they don’t seem quite so difficult to overcome.

Lately, I have found myself spending too much time playing fairly mindless games on Facebook, which is a pretty sure sign I am letting my energy flag. I am still getting more done than I did before I started working on these things, but less than I was when I was more on top of things. I clearly have some work to do now. Oddly, I find that letting my writing slip is draining my energy more than actually doing the writing does. I would have thought of writing as something that takes energy, which is true enough in a way, but it obviously provides energy in other ways.

How do you manage your energy and get things done?

To Do List for Sunday

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I really need to get back to my weekend list making, so I know what I am doing. The weekend is half over now, but I am getting my list in for what is left

  • Make some crafts. I bought supplies today to make cool bracelets and necklaces I pinned on Pinterest, and I want to get that done (or at least started).
  • Play racquetball with the girl. My friend is still hurting from pulling a muscle in her leg last Tuesday, but I don’t want to lose my momentum.
  • Go swimming at a friend’s house. I know, that doesn’t sound like a to do list item, but relationships are important, and sometimes it is easy to stay home like a hermit and ignore them.
  • BBQ with my dad for Father’s day. He dearly loves to BBQ for us, so we are heading over there, even though he smokes like a chimney and I hate that smell. It’s father’s day after all.
  • Make a menu for the week. Hopefully one that doesn’t require me to buy anything after last weekend’s expensive Costco trip!
  • Go to bed early. The girl starts summer cheerleading practice at 6 AM Monday, and I want to give her a ride, at least for the first day, so I need to break my staying up ’til midnight summer habit.
  • Finish the blog post I started today. It is a bit more drawn out than this list, so I want to take a bit more time on it. I hope I didn’t raise huge expectations there! I have been mulling a bit this weekend on full engagement and doing what I want with my life rather than drifting through it, and I think that merits a bit more time, including an extra day for reviewing.

So far this weekend, I have taken the dog for a walk, made dinner last night and did a few errands. Not much, I know, but I am feeling pretty good about tomorrow. I am going to get a bit more crocheting done tonight as well, which is always relaxing and fun.

What are your plans for this weekend? How are they coming along?

After a small blip…

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In keeping with the theme of this month’s NaBloPoMo, Jump, when a friend asked if I wanted to try playing racquetball with her, I jumped right in. I had never played before, and despite my months with the fitbit, I wasn’t sure I was really fit enough for the game. There is only one way to get better, though, so I met her at the Y and started learning the game.

Jump fits here both figuratively–jumping into a sport I had never attempted–and literally. There is a lot of jumping to try to hit that ball! This is where the new activity came to conflict with the daily blog posting–all that jumping and running and hitting is exhausting. I did write every day this week, but I didn’t get something here each day. Tuesday, I worked on my book review for GamingAngels, worked a full day, then went off to play racquetball. Then, I came home, took a shower and died. Well, obviously not literally died, but it sure felt like it.

Yesterday I finished my book review and then wallowed in the self-pity of breaking a goal–I am a failure, there is no way I can post every day in June when I already missed a day, etc. etc. Today I am picking myself up and diving back in anyway. I am doing it early, too, since I am scheduled to play racquetball again tonight.

This will get easier, right?

Menu, Week of 6/10

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This weekend, I decided I could not put off a huge trip to Costco any longer. I am much poorer in dollars now, but much richer in food! I tried to exercise some restraint, so I pretty much bought only food this time, resisting the temptation to buy all the household goods, outdoor paraphernalia and assorted deals they have throughout the warehouse. I did get bratwurst and artichokes for a good BBQ, though.

Image credit: cookingforengineers.com

It is a good thing we BBQ’d last night, too, because as I type this, it is pouring outside. Not that I am complaining–we need the rain, it has been so dry here lately. My garden and fig trees are going to be very happy with this deluge.

I have some garden using tasks I didn’t get done this weekend that I will need to do during the week. I made all those great plans for the lavender and did exactly nothing there, and it is time to take all of the garlic scapes off the garlic plants. I have been using some scapes, but I will have a lot to use at once, so I foresee a big batch of garlic scape pesto in my near future.

Sunday: Grilled bratwurst, grilled artichokes, broccoli slaw, sangria for the adults

Monday: Ground turkey with peas and potatoes–loosely based on this recipe, brown rice/quinoa, leftover broccoli slaw

Tuesday: Peanut coconut chicken curry, rice

Wednesday: Pasta with Tuna, Capers and Tomato Sauce, smoothies

Thursday: Scrambled eggs, hash browns, turkey sausages

Friday: Italian sausage and tomato risotto

Saturday: leftovers

As always, this post will be linked to Menu Plan Monday at orgjunkie.com–lots more ideas over there!

Relaxing

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After a day of racquetball, coffee with a friend, cleaning, and a quick trip to the pool, we finished off the night with sangria (for my friend and me) and BBQ for everyone.  We sat on the back patio and watched the kids run through the yard while we picked boozy fruit out of our glasses and chatted. That seems like a good end to the weekend to me!

How was your weekend?