The many benefits of creativity

Charlene's painting
This is Charlene’s beautiful work in progress. Isn’t it delightful?

My friend Charlene wrote something on Facebook on Friday that really made me think about creativity.

She wrote, ‘I love finding little bits of time to paint. I put my headphones on and listen to a book, while I add some more colour to my painting. I have found it is extremely beneficial to me when I am anxious’. 

I feel exactly the same way about my writing. It is easy to forget and to get hung up on doing other ‘more worthwhile things’ but maybe there is nothing more worthwhile than being creative.

Time is very precious to me right now. I have so many projects that I want to make happen, and I also have editing work that I need to do to get some money in my pocket. I have found that over the last few weeks the admin and the editing and the other little jobs have taken priority most of the time, and writing, my creative side, hasn’t had much of a look in.

But on Thursdays I take two hours to head to the café and write. And that time is set aside, it does not get taken up by anything except the writing of the novel, no matter how stressed I am about anything else. I have committed to others to be there and writing, and they are keeping me accountable. Those two hours are purely writing time.

It is amazing how great I feel after spending that time writing, it grounds me, it slows down my rushing anxiety, it helps me back into my own skin again. It reminds me of what I have made all these changes in my life for. And it reminds me that once this busy time is over (and it should be over by next week) I must set aside more time for writing once again.

The act of creating is so beneficial for us. Therapeutic, even.

I think we remember this when we are doing our own art, creating our own thing, writing our own book, practicing our own musical instrument. But when we see art in a gallery, or read a good book, or attend a concert, do we think about how many ways that art has benefitted society?

Originally, and I hope this is generally true, the creative work has benefitted the creator. We are meant to create and I think in most cases the act of creation has brought joy to the person creating.

Then by being in the world it brings joy and peace, or enthusiasm, or a cathartic experience to us who are viewing or listening or dancing to it.

And finally, by being sold or licensed or borrowed it brings good to our economy.

Creativity is a cornerstone of who we are as human beings. I encourage you to find your own creative outlet and make time for it. You may do it just for yourself, just to bring yourself that peace and joy. You might share what you create with friends and family and bring them joy too. Or you might find that what you create can be shared with an even wider audience. I think that whatever you do, the benefits are totally worth the time invested.

I’d love you to share with me what you do creatively. Tell me in the comments, or write to ruth@ruthamos.com.au and send me a picture or a soundbite or a paragraph. I’d love to see how creative we can get about creativity and have a long list of creative endeavours for next week’s blog.

And if you want to know what I’ve been so busy doing you can head to www.ruthamos.com.au/podcast and have a listen to the very first episode of my new podcast A Quiet Life. I’ll be launching on iTunes and Stitcher very soon, God willing, and you will be able to subscribe and hear an episode each week.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support my writing and the creation of my podcast then you can head over to Patreon.com/quietlife and support me for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

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Getting my priorities right

Today’s blog is going to be short, I reckon. I don’t have time to fit much into it. I don’t have a lot of time to do anything today, actually. I was a little stressed about that this morning but I’ve decided to change my mind.

You see, Moz is on holidays, so we left the alarm off and had a nice slow wakening rather than the ‘keep an eye on the time and jump out of bed’ one that we normally have.

Which meant that after my normal morning routine I was running about an hour later than usual and starting to panic that I wasn’t going to get enough done today.

I usually start my work day by writing in my journal. It gets my thoughts sorted out before I try to write anything that anyone else will be reading. And I started by journal today by saying what a lovely morning it had been, and how excited I am to be getting my daughter Jess from the airport (she’ll be here for a short and sweet four day stay), and then I wrote, ‘But I find I’m stressed.’

Why was I stressed? I was stressed because I had a long list of things that I could be doing. A long list of tasks that are necessary for moving my different businesses forward. And what with taking it easy this morning, and picking up Jess at lunch time, and so on, I was not going to make it through my list of tasks.

But then I realised I needed to reframe and reprioritise.

Today is not a day for churning through work tasks. I have a lot I could be doing, but even this blog is not something I have to do. I don’t think any of you will die if the blog gets released one day later than I planned. In fact, I could leave the blog, not write it at all, and nothing dreadful would happen. It’s good to remember that occasionally.

Today is a day for concentrating on my family. For enjoying the rest that comes with school holidays. For giving Jess a big hug at the airport and making the most of having her with us for a very short time. For going out to lunch as a family because we can. And for watching Dr Who together tonight (we’ll be late because Caleb will be at uni until 8pm so no spoilers, please!!)

Sometimes it is important to focus on work, to strive to get through the jobs and to put your pleasures on hold for a while. Sometimes the day needs to be prioritised the other way around. It’s part of the rhythm of life, the seesaw of living.

We are leaving in an hour or so to pick up our daughter Jess from the airport  and today will be a family day. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. The tasks will wait.

I hope that whatever your day holds you also will know what to prioritise and what to let go.

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

If you would like to support my writing and the creation of my podcast (coming soon, I promise) then you can head over to Patreon and support me for as little as a dollar a month. Thank you so much!

Rest

This week I’ve been reading a book called Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I had heard it highly recommended on a podcast so I toddled along to the library and placed myself on the hold list and got hold of a copy. I was number 2 on the list for this book, not number 60 like I am for a book called Educated by Tara Westover. You might get a book report on that one too but you’re going to be waiting a while.

Anyway, Rest is one of those books that looks at the science behind resting – fMRIs and studies of various student groups, and all that kind of stuff. It also looks at the lives of great achievers through history – great politicians, authors, artists, and scientists – and shows us how they incorporated rest into their lives, encouraging us to do the same.

When Alex talks about rest, he’s talking about sleeping well at night, napping, walking, vigorous exercise (like marathons, or rock climbing), and immersive hobbies (like chess or building an 18 ft robot giraffe). All of these are aspects of rest and help renew our minds so that we can work better and more creatively.

He nowhere mentions watching TV or movies or surfing social media as aspects of rest.

When Moz and I were first married we lived in a little granny flat out the back of a friend’s house. For the first few months we had no television. (And no computer. Almost no one had a computer back then. It’s really crazy to think about that.)

We didn’t miss it very much at all. We read, we chatted, visited with friends. It wasn’t a problem most of the time. But there were some days I remember coming home and really wanting to sit and stare and be entertained. So I think that TV has its place in the list of restful activities.

But I also think TV-watching has a very limited ability to refresh us. It is so easy to keep watching, keep flicking to the next Netflix show, when it would be much better for us to either sleep, or walk, or read. Any of those things would be ultimately more refreshing. I can spend a day watching TV and be more exhausted at the end than I was at the beginning.

Social media is similar. I love to just scroll through my feed when I’m feeling tired. But the scroll can become never-ending and you can end up more tired than when you started. And more disturbed and emotionally unwell too, depending on the content that comes up.

It’s important for our brains to feel boredom. To spend a little bit of time not being entertained. The flickering low-level entertainment of TV and social media is a short-term gain but a long-term loss for our well-being. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, I’m not saying anything new. But maybe it’s important to check what we are doing when we’re trying to rest, and see whether it actually helps us to feel rested or not.

It’s easy to read Rest and to add a checklist of new activities that you now have to tick off in order to achieve greatness. To feel pressure to add more of these ‘restful activities’ to your week. But I’m sure that’s not what Alex Pang intended.

Instead, if you’re feeling like you should be working more and more and harder and harder to get things done so that you will achieve what you are made for, this book will give you good scientific and historical evidence that making time to rest is essential for good work. And it will give you some good suggestions for what this rest could look like.

Rest, after all, is included in our instruction manual. Let’s include it in our lives.

 

Are you missing some of my blog posts? Sign up to follow the A Quiet Life blog on WordPress, or you can sign up to my newsletter on www.ruthamos.com.au  and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You will also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

Overwhelm

Well, it finally happened, and it only took two and a half months. But for the first time since I went freelance I have got too busy working for myself and this weekend I found myself suffering from overwhelm.

The deadline for a big client is drawing closer and the work is increasing in panic, it was newsletter week last week for my fiction business, I’m leading church this Sunday, I’m trying to get a podcast off the ground and that means (gasp) inviting people for interviews, I know that next week a full day is taken up travelling to Launceston with Moz and while I’ve arranged that and I’m looking forward to it, Friday of this week came so quickly I didn’t even see it coming and having a four-day week for all the work next week is frankly quite scary. Not to mention all the wonderful events that I could attend (and possibly even should attend) like the People’s Library exhibition, my friend’s band gig, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival, and the author talks at my local library…

On Friday afternoon I was exhausted and I was worried. I decided that I’d have to work on the client job on the weekend. There was no way I could get everything done. The Sabbath, the rest I usually have once a week, it would just have to be put off.

On Saturday I woke up near tears.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t face anything. It was all too hard.

There is only one thing to do at this point. I needed a day off.

I needed to trust God that he’d take care of deadlines, that he’d look after the speed at which my businesses grows, that he had it all in hand.

And this overwhelm and tiredness wasn’t going to be solved by just any day off. There was no way I could go with a just-do-the-housework day off, or a lets-go-out-somewhere day off. I needed a real and total rest.

The weather was in my favour. It was blowing a gale and raining sideways. It was the perfect day for sitting in front of the fire and reading.

So that’s what I did. I made a fire, I found a library book about shepherding in the Yorkshire Dales that required very little emotional energy, and I sat. Later in the day as I felt better I read some of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard and thought deep and prayerful thoughts. Then I wrote some silly poetry exercises about what I wanted to eat, and what I could hear and see outside the window. Later I watched some TV. There was a little Facebook in all that too.

Late in the afternoon we had to head down to church to set up for Sunday but that meant that I got out of the house for a short walk and that in itself was good for me.

Soup and toast for dinner and a really mindless movie topped off the day.

I found I was much more able to face things Sunday morning. The list didn’t seem so big or difficult. My energy levels had increased. I could cope again.

I am learning to budget my time so I don’t get so overwhelmed in the first place. That’s obviously the place I want to be. But I’m also learning that when I am feeling overwhelmed, sometimes I need to chuck it all and sit for a while in faith that the world will keep turning without me.

I love a quote from The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton: ‘When I works, I works hard, and when I sits, I sits loose.’ Saturday was a day for sitting loose and now I am refreshed and able to work hard again.

I know you’ve heard this sermon from me before. I’ve written a book about it, for crying out loud. I wish I could learn it so deeply that I didn’t have to relearn every few months. But for now, I’m just letting you know, I’ve learned it again.

A day off is a necessary part of every week, no matter how busy I am. I hope you can also find this rhythm of rest and work in your own life.

Are you feeling trapped? Stuck?

I read an interesting article in The Australian on Sunday morning. It was talking about how women are pretending that they can have it all – career, family, hobbies, everything – when we know we can’t. How women are hiding the failures and airbrushing their lives. How we are falling apart behind the scenes.

What struck me as I read was the feeling of being trapped. The women the author was writing about felt they had no choice, that they had to live like this, that they had to keep on with the career and the hectic lifestyle, that they just had to hide what was going on and just keep going.

It is obviously not only women who feel this way.

But I wonder if there is some freedom that can be found.

Moz now works as a teacher but he didn’t start his working life that way. He trained first to be an electrician. After his apprenticeship finished he got a job installing computer cabling with a small business. We are grateful for that job but long-term it was never going to be the right job for him. It involved long hours, shift work, and massive unpredictability. We never knew when he was working or for how long, and that doesn’t make for a happy family, especially with very young children.

Every month we would struggle to meet our budget and I would complain to Moz, and every month he would work harder, longer hours, more shifts, to try to get the money I was asking for, and I would complain that we didn’t spend enough time as a family.

We felt trapped in an unrelenting cycle.

Eventually we had the chance to stop for a few days and think things through. We realised that the family’s need to see more of him was greater than our need for the money he was providing. We chose to make some sacrifices and he quit his job and we went to university.

This was not an easy decision and we saw God’s miraculous provision for us more than once. But the point I want to make is this: we chose to have less money for a number of years in order to have the family relationships we needed.

This meant that we had crap furniture – a really dreadful brown lounge suite and a very daggy dining table and chairs. Almost every scrap of furniture we owned was second-hand and even the carpet in our house was hand-me-down, given to us by my Uncle and Aunt after they recarpeted their own home.

We didn’t have mainland holidays. When we went away we went to Pop’s beach house. It was free.

We didn’t have new clothes. Op-shopping and hand-me-downs were the order of the day.

We didn’t get to eat flash food. We got to eat a lot of bread that was given to us by charities, and we ate very simply (weetbix, anyone?) the rest of the time.

But we were no longer trapped. We were going on a journey to where we next needed to be. We were doing what we wanted to do.

People would say to us, ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing.’

They could.

They just needed to make that choice. They would have to make sacrifices just like us. But if they really wanted to, they could.

I know I am making generalisations here and maybe this doesn’t apply to you but I think it applies to more of us than we would like.

I think that if you really want to do something, if you have a dream, then you probably can make it happen.

I think some of us need to realise that we are not stuck, we are instead choosing the lifestyle that we have. We are prioritising things that we are not admitting to.

Perhaps you really want to be at home with your children but you are continuing in your job because you feel that you have to be able to provide the best in furniture, clothes, and toys for your kids.

Perhaps you would love to follow your dream but instead feel like you are trapped in your job because of the fees you need to pay for your kids’ private schooling.

Maybe you are putting off your dream because you want the financial security. You keep telling yourself you will do it once you have saved enough to retire early.

Maybe you are working 12 hours a day so you can afford the mortgage on your house.

It’s a choice.

You could choose to go with simpler clothes and furnishings and have more time with your kids. You could choose to send your kids to public school and maybe have a happier home life with a lot less stress. You could choose to sell your house and rent, or at least downsize so that you have less of a mortgage payment to pay. You can choose to work towards your dream now, on the weekends, or in your lunch hours, and not wait for some financially secure time that may never happen.

It is so easy to blame circumstances or external forces for the consequences of our own choices. To say ‘I really wanted to … but things stopped me’.

What is stopping you might just be you.

Are there sacrifices you need to make to follow your dream?

Or are you only willing to ‘rest forever in the shadows of the safety of what might have been’? (Barbara Turner-Vesselago)

This is not the whole story, of course. It is part of the story, part of the argument. There is so much involved in following your dream. Do you do it part-time? Full-time? How will it affect your family? Who do you need to talk to? Do you need training? There are so many questions that need to be answered.

I am just hoping that if your soul has been speaking to you and you have been brushing it off, that this blog post will help you get started. Start the conversation. Think about the sacrifices. Think about the choices you are making. Get un-stuck.

New Life

 

It’s a wintery day here in Tasmania, and as I write this the rain is pouring down and it’s snowing at every so slightly higher altitudes. The people moving into the unit just above our house have picked a great day for it. They’re going to have to move furniture in between rain squalls and I’m guessing they don’t even have a kettle unpacked for coffees while they are waiting.

The rain is falling but the birds are singing their hearts out. I can hear them just outside my window, their little voices so loud that I can’t even hear the rain.

It’s a reminder that spring, and with it new life, is just around the corner. The cherry trees are blossoming, and the bulbs are up and flowering. The sun is rising earlier and earlier. We’ve made it through the dark winter and into the snow season and there are some lovely warm days happening too.

I have been moving into my new season of life for about two months now. I thought I’d give you an update as to how it’s all going.

I’m still finding my feet. Sometimes I feel like I may never find them. The ground changes every week, every day, and at times it even changes during the day. Editing jobs come in with urgency and must be completed immediately, or they don’t come at all and I need to figure out which of the other things on my list is of the greatest importance. I am still working out how much time to spend on marketing, and how best to do that; how much time to spend on investing in the future by writing novels and other books; how much time to spend investing in people by having coffee with them.

However, I am loving this life.

On the weekend I had a coffee and chat time I’m calling a Writer’s Salon. This is a time that I’m putting aside for people to get together over a cuppa at my place and just chat about writing. I’ve held two of these sessions now, and I will keep holding them at about six-week intervals. They are great fun and I’m learning from those who come, and I hope they are learning from me too, or at least, feeling encouraged to keep going with their writing.

The Writers Salon was Saturday afternoon, and Saturday evening there was a showcase of songwriters called Word in Song that was held just down the road at our church. This was the seventh such showcase, and each year I have been tempted to go, but too tired, or too busy. But this year I went. I sat and listened to these creative people share their talents and it was great.

Two months ago I would not have been able to cope with two such people-intensive activities on the same day. Two months ago I’m not sure that I could have done either of them. Saturdays were for recovery, for hiding away from the world and getting myself some energy back.

Now I can join the world again. I have enough energy from spending time alone through the week to allow me to spend time with people on the weekend. To be with people Saturday afternoon and evening, and then to go to church on Sunday and still enjoy it.

I probably will never go to every event that is on. I still need more alone time than most people (at least I think I do). But this weekend, as I sat in the pew and listened to the lovely music, I felt like I was rejoining the world and it was wonderful.

I really had wondered as I wrote ‘My Year of Saying No’ and as I planned this new venture, whether it would ‘work’. Whether I would get energy from working like this, whether I would be able to do more reaching out to people, more sharing with others. Or whether I was doomed to always be stretched beyond my emotional resources. I am pleased to say that two months in I am filled with hope that the dreams I have had are achievable. With the time I have alone, I am energised to reach out to others. The Writers Salon, and work I am doing on starting a podcast (more on this later), and the talk I gave at Calvin earlier this week, and the fact that I could go to the Word in Song showcase and support my friends there, these things have been desires of my heart that have been waiting for some energy to allow them to happen. Now they are happening. I am blessed.

Sometimes when I think about my businesses my stomach contracts as I wonder if I’ll be able to keep landing jobs and keep this lifestyle going. But for now, I’m enjoying what has been provided for me. I’m giving grateful thanks. And I’m putting the work in (by myself, in the comfort of my little home office) to keep this state of affairs going for as long as possible.

I was listening to a podcast called Simple by Tsh Oxenrider (yes, that’s Tsh without an I) and was really encouraged by something she said in conversation with Emily P Freeman. I thought I’d share it with you.

They said that if there is something within you that you really want to do, something that won’t go away, then name it. Define it. Don’t just let it sit inside you, worrying at you, making you sick. Figure out what it is, name it.

Then, when you name it, you can either let go of it and work through the grief, if it’s not going to happen. Or you can take steps towards making it happen, and towards blessing others with this thing that you’re heading towards.

You’re not having a tantrum, telling the universe that you ‘have to have’ this thing. You are simply being honest about what you want.

So I guess that’s what I’m doing now. Working through, and towards, what I really want. And hopefully blessing people on the way.

I thank you all for your support and for the prayers of the praying people who receive this blog.

To never miss a blog post from me you can either sign up to follow the blog on WordPress, or you can sign up on www.ruthamos.com.au to my newsletter and you will receive every post straight to your email inbox. You can also find my book ‘My Year of Saying No’ on that website, and any short stories or other books will be up there as they come along.

 

Talking Books with Teenagers

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It was my great pleasure and privilege to be the visiting speaker at the book week assembly for our local Christian secondary school today. I enjoyed being part of an assembly that focused on books and reading. I was happy to see students getting prizes for being the year’s best borrowers from the library. I especially enjoyed the costume display. People had gone the extra mile for sure. It was great to see a Huckleberry Finn, an Olaf, a Where’s Wally (that’s Waldo if you’re an American), an Anne Boleyn … and that was just the teachers. Donations for the day went to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

I thought that, instead of my normal blog, you might like to have a read of what I had to say:

It’s great to be back here. I spent my primary school years here at Calvin. I remember playing kick square, and my great love of Oliebollen started here with the Oliebollen festival.

I wrote my first book in grade 3.

I have written and published two more books now. This one is a murder mystery, and this one is a memoir and self-help book.

I guess you could say that I am now a story teller.

We are all story tellers.

When you meet up with everyone at recess and say, ‘You’ll never guess what happened in science class!’ you are a story teller.

And we love to listen to stories. Whether you end up working as

an engineer,

a plumber,

a scientist,

a hairdresser,

a teacher,

a stay at home parent,

whatever you end up doing, I guarantee you’ll end up telling stories.

We tell stories around the dinner table, the board room, the class room, and some of us write them up into books

and those people are called authors.

I love to read stories. I love reading books. But even more than that I love to hear the stories of real people. Your stories.

You are far more interesting than the most interesting fictional character. Your life is more complex, your reasons for doing things more fascinating, your actions more noteworthy.

One of the reasons I write is to tell the stories of the people I know.

The book I’ve written is fiction. It’s a murder mystery, and that part is totally made up. But in that book I put bits and pieces about people I have seen and known.

I was still working at the university when I was writing this book. I would go to conferences and instead of taking notes on the talks, I’d be taking notes of the people. I’d think

“Oh look at that guy, sitting there taking up three seats. I’ll write him into my book.”

Or

“I can’t believe my eyes, that girl is in the conference but she’s watching a movie with her earphones on, I’ll put her in my book.’

I also put in my book some aspects of the life story of one of my dear friends. In fact, the whole mystery is built on her story, her time studying at the university. She didn’t have a happy time and I was able to weave that into the book, to tell her story in a way. I mean, it’s very well disguised. But she saw it.

One of the biggest triumphs for me with this book is that when my friend read the story —- her story —- she cried. My story helped her to get over her own story and to receive healing. And that was pretty special.

Reading books can do that for us. Reading, whether it’s fiction or not, can help us see the story in our own lives.

Because we are in a story.

You are the main character of your own story.

And your story is part of a bigger story.

I’m a bit strange, when I’m reading a story I often love the bit at the beginning where everything is ok before the thing happens that makes it all go wrong. And I love the bit at the end where everything is sorted out and they all live happily ever after.

But of course, it’s the middle of the story that makes it worth reading.

  • It’s the bit where the hobbits have been captured by the orcs that leaves us on the edge of our seats, furiously turning pages, unable to go to sleep.
  • It’s the part where Aslan has been killed and all hope is lost that has us crying and wondering what the Pevensie children will do now and whether they’ll ever get home again.
  • It’s the bit where our masked hero is mostly dead and the princess bride has gone through the wedding ceremony and we can’t see any way that things could turn out well.

Those are the bits that make the stories worth reading.

Though sometimes I like to just turn to the end to make sure it really will work out alright before I go back and plough my way through the middle of the book.

Until the day we die, each of us will be living in the middle of a story. We’re never going to be living in the happily ever after part.

We’ll be living in the part of the story where the hero doesn’t know if he will survive, where he is battling the monster and just needs to keep going.

We’ve been given a sneak preview of the end of the book and it’s great to know that it will all turn out well in the end,

but in the meantime,

we’re stuck here fighting a battle against evil forces, trying to find where we fit in the plot, trying to figure out who we are.

And the great thing about our story is that it’s one of those complex ones. One of those amazing stories where there are many, many plot lines that all connect in different places and all weave together to make a beautiful end product.

What you do in your part of the story affects others in their parts. It’s a “choose your own adventure” where your adventure links in with everyone else’s.

Nothing we do in our lives is wasted, it all fits into the plot. And you have the choice of which side of the story you are on.

Joining with God’s side of the story means that you are part of something bigger than yourself. It means that you can trust God with the outcome of the story, that whether it looks good to you right now, or bad, He will work it out for good in the end.

One of the best things about writing my mystery was that I got to tell my friend’s story, just a bit of it. I think that every single one of us has a pretty amazing story to tell,

and whether you tell it in a book,

or just live it,

your story is important.

Your story is weaving into the bigger story that God is writing.

Make your life story worth telling, make it amazing.

Fight your battles knowing that you are a part of a bigger army.

And relax in knowing that the end will be worth the fight.

One thing at a time

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I can’t remember where I read this advice, and I really wish I could. It was in a book about calming your days, feeling more at peace, dealing with technology better. The advice was do one thing at a time.

I have been watching myself lately and I haven’t been following this advice.

I have been playing solitaire on my phone while watching TV.

Scrolling through Facebook while eating breakfast.

Listening to a podcast and playing solitaire while eating lunch.

I realised this was really a problem for me when I caught myself trying to play solitaire on my phone while I was reading a book. It doesn’t work.

On Sunday night I decided that I wanted to relax and just watch the program I was watching on TV. The program was Grand Designs (I’m a bit of a tragic) and you’re not going to get much out of that if you aren’t looking at the screen. You don’t see the houses.

I sat back on the couch and I watched.

It was difficult. I wanted to distract myself with my computer or my phone. But I kept at it. And it was refreshing, it really was, just to let my brain do one thing at once.

I think I need to push myself on this one.

I need to eat when I’m eating – not watch TV, not read, not scroll through Facebook. Just enjoy the food, taste it, smell it, really appreciate what I’m eating.

I need to watch TV when I’m watching, and read when I’m reading.

I need to remember to turn the wifi off when I’m writing and allow myself to sink deeply into the writing process (I am a bit better with this one).

Sometimes it’s good to do two things at once – some tasks work well together. I like listening to podcasts while walking because the story keeps me going when I would otherwise get bored and head for home. But at the same time, sometimes on my walks I need to turn the noise off and just let myself think.

I’ve been doing some data-entry work lately and listening to audio books has been great to keep me on-task. But it can’t be a book I care deeply about because if I have to think about the work at all then I miss what the narrator is saying. However, I think that the multi-tasking in that situation has worked well.

This world is so full of distractions that it is difficult to concentrate on one thing for any length of time. But I think that’s a muscle worth developing so I’m going to work harder to simplify.

Some good books on this subject are Single Tasking by Devora Zack, and Deep Work by Cal Newport. Also, at the end of Women Food and God by Geneen Roth there is a list of rules for eating which includes:

Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

How about you? Do you love to multi-task? Are you addicted to distractions? What do you think about doing only one thing at once?

Reporting Back

I’m sure you’re all desperate to know how my time-management went last week.

But first, I want to tell you about an interview with Brené Brown that I read during the week. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it.

Here’s the bit that stuck out to me. She was talking about words that wholehearted people were using when they were talking with her. The words that describe what we want life to be like.

These were the words: Vulnerability, authenticity, creativity, rest, compassion, boundaries, joy.

These words describe well what I want to get out of my writing life. These are the things I want in my life. I couldn’t have said it better myself, and so I’m not. I’m pointing you to Brené.

There was another list of words too. Words that we want to stay away from: Comparison, perfection, status, exhaustion.

These two lists sum up why I have changed my lifestyle to be what it is now. But these bad habits, these bad aims are not limited to university life, or to any kind of life. These are habits and attitudes that can creep in on anyone at anytime. And the good list are things that can be part of any life, no matter what you are doing or where you are working.

I just love these two lists. I want to write them out and stick them up where I can see them regularly and be reminded to stop comparing myself to others, beating myself up with perfectionism, or looking for status, and to start exercising my creativity, allowing myself to rest, setting good boundaries, living in joy, being authentic and vulnerable.

 

And now to the time management.

Having two hours for writing blocked out in my calendar worked really well from Monday through Thursday.

On Monday in my writing time I wrote an ode to the blank page, then I remembered my dream journal (I write my dreams in it and it sits next to my bed) and I leafed through it for inspiration and came up with a story idea. On Tuesday I started writing the story, taking my time (I had two hours to fill), and concentrating on things like describing all the senses – how did the room look? Smell? Was it cold or hot? And so on. On Wednesday the story took hold of me and changed dramatically from where it started. After Thursday’s writing I had a very exciting idea about a plot twist. It was really wonderful to see the story take shape, to see that I can have ideas, to enjoy the process.

On Friday I was so tired I went back to bed in my writing time and just slept.

The same with the editing business time in the afternoon. That worked really well. The work I’m doing at the moment doesn’t require all that much brain power so I listened to an audio book while I worked. It meant that I got a lot done because the plot of the story pulled me along. Again, Friday didn’t work so well, but I still got some done.

The thing I’m having difficulty with is the in-between time. The big jobs are getting big time allocations but the smaller jobs are still fiddly and annoying. And while I love writing, I get tired after churning out 2000 words first thing in the morning, and then it’s hard to give the attention to, say, the emails that I really should read, or to paying the bills. Still, I mark last week down as a success and I’m working towards a similar plan for this week. I’ll keep working on how to fit the little fiddly things in. It has to happen.

I guess the two parts of this blog are not unrelated. It has been wonderful to put boundaries in place, to turn off the wifi to my computer and dedicate two hours in the morning to unlocking my creativity. And to give up on perfection in the story I’m writing and to not compare myself to others but just to enjoy what was coming out as I allowed myself to be authentic, vulnerable, and creative. And also, to rest on Friday when rest was what I needed most.

May you also have a creative and restful week, with good boundaries, and much joy.

Getting Started

the writing den
This is my writing space. I have been working on finding space for all my chemistry textbooks. The shelves are looking nice and neat now. Time to get words on the page.

So far in this new life of mine, I haven’t been very productive on the writing side of things. I have many excuses – time in LA, family time, Moz and Caleb being on holidays, and so on. And I have been productive in other areas – lots of work on the editing business, sorting out the bookshelves in my den, getting the housework done – all of these things are worthwhile but when they are taking the place of writing then they start to look suspiciously like procrastination.

There are many different ways of getting yourself to write. There is the method of word count – writing 1000 words a day, or 500, or even writing 50 to get you started. Or choosing to sit at your desk until you have accomplished your 1000 words, or 2000 or whatever. There is the method of time blocking (see below), there is the method of heading to a café to write, or using the library, both of which are especially good for productivity if there is no wifi access, I’m told. There is getting up at 4.30 am to write, or staying up after every one else has gone to sleep, neither of which appeal to me very much.

Many (if not most) writers don’t have any choice as to when in the day they write. When I was working full-time I wrote for fifteen minutes at the beginning of each day and that’s all I had time for. Others write in their lunch hours, or in little snatches of time around looking after children.

I now have much more time to write. I don’t have unlimited time, I need to make sure I spend time on my editing business as well. But I have much more freedom as to when I write. I can choose (to a degree) how I will organise my day.

I’ve been thinking that it would be a good idea to block out time to dedicate to writing. This is the time blocking method I was talking about earlier. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. My problem has been one of perfectionism. I haven’t blocked out any time to write because I want to block out the perfect time.

Up until now I have written mainly in the mornings. First thing, before work. But now that I don’t have set times for work, I can decide exactly which hours of the day to dedicate to writing time. But I haven’t been sure which time to choose.

What if the best time for writing is in the afternoon when I have finished off some of the annoying but urgent business and home tasks? What if I need to be writing in the morning when my creative thoughts are freshest? What if straight after lunch is best, the dreamy time when I can get my self-editing mind out of the way? Or what if I put the writing time in my calendar in a place where I would be better off exercising, or editing, or answering email? I don’t want to block out hours and get it wrong. I don’t want to have an imperfect day when I get less writing done than I could if I got the timing just right.

And of course, this type of thinking leads to no writing being done at all.

So for the week ahead I have bitten the bullet and blocked out some hours for writing each morning. I have also blocked out hours for the editing business in the afternoons. In between I will do housework, have coffees with people, exercise, and make meals etc. If this week doesn’t work well, then I will try a different schedule next week.

Sometimes when I’m being a perfectionist I just have to make a choice and see what happens. The other option is to spin around and around trying to find the perfect option and to never start at all. If you are facing a choice where there is no obvious right answer, and you’ve got yourself stuck in the perfectionistic spin like me, I encourage you to make a choice and give it a go for a while. Let me know in the comments how it went.

Incidentally, while I’ve chosen the morning hours for writing next week, I’m writing this at 5pm on a Saturday and it’s flowing really well. So there might be a bit of adjustment necessary, or I might just have to try different styles on different weeks until I find a method that works very well.

And there’s always the possibility that my writing process will change and that different things will work on different weeks. I need to make sure I give myself permission to change the routine when it’s appropriate. But in any event I need some routine to get me started.

I’ll let you know how it goes.