Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

NaNoWriMo Week 3 – Perfection is the Enemy

Perfection is the enemy of done. Truth.

Little Miss Perfect

Hello, my name is Cheryl, and I am a perfectionist.

We need to start an intervention group for perfectionism. Maybe they exist already. [Note to self: Google this because you need help.]

perfectionism-quote

I am one of those folks who let perfectionism keep me from doing a lot of things. This is especially true if it is something other people will know about or see. I have always been this way, I think, but when I was younger I had enough of a fatalistic attitude to just go with the flow and do it anyway. As I have gotten older, this attitude has been softened by fear.

For all the peer pressure to fit in that we survive (or don’t) in our school days, I think adults have it worse. I know a lot of people who are acutely aware of and worried about what other people think of them. They don’t do something for fear of being foolish. They don’t laugh loudly in public. They don’t try anything new.

I have fallen into this perfection trap myself. I have resisted signing up for a class because I would be called on to do something that I may not do well. I have stayed on the side line instead of jumping into the center of attention and doing something others may think is foolish. I have stood tongue-tied in a conversation because I didn’t value my own opinion enough to voice it.

But, really, what is the worst thing that could happen?

You sign up for a class in ballroom dancing because you want to learn to dance. You take violin lessons because you have no idea what to do with this beautiful instrument and you want to learn to play. You go to a writers’ conference because you want to learn from other writers.

perfect writer

No one in any of these situations will be perfect.

No one becomes a dancer without stepping on some toes and falling on their butts a few times. Dance anyway.

No one (except the rare savant) picks up an instrument and plays advanced concertos flawlessly and with great emotion the first time. Do not compare your beginning efforts to those who have recorded the classics and played Carnegie Hall.

No one writes a perfect first draft, or second draft, or published draft without help from an editor and a lot of great beta readers who pick it apart first. Do not compare your first draft to the published work of a master author. Sit your butt in the chair and write anyway.

Perfectionism is fear in disguise. It has very little to do with not making mistakes, and everything to do with how we want others to see us. It is a terrible disease. Symptoms are procrastination, failure to progress, hyper-sensitivity, nausea, heart palpitations, feeling stupid and self-flagellation. There is no known cure other than to do what you want to do and do it publicly. Put yourself out there. Own it. Make some noise. Make glorious mistakes. Wallow in them, learn from them, and move on.

Screen+Shot+2013-06-12+at+12.27.20+PM

In the book, No Plot, No Problem, Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), says we need to “embrace exuberant imperfection.” That has stuck with me since I first read it in 2007. I have that quote taped to my desk. My problem is remembering to live it.

I am getting better. I guess, I am in recovery. I finished and published my first novel. I have become a speaker. I have attempted to play new instruments. I have tried to put myself out there more and not give much thought to how others perceive me. There is a chance for us recovering perfectionists to live a normal life after all. 🙂

perfection

 

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

NaNoWriMo Week 2 – The Monster Under the Bed

For many writers or would-be writers, writer’s block is the big scary thing under the bed.

LOVE this fabulous piece of art by zettablob on deviantart!

This is Your Brain on Writing

Last June, an article with the same title was written by Carl Zimmer and appeared in the NY Times. It started, “A novelist scrawling away in a notebook in seclusion may not seem to have much in common with an NBA player doing a reverse layup on a basketball court before a screaming crowd. But if you could peer inside their heads, you might see some striking similarities in how their brains were churning.” And I was hooked.

I have never been athletic so learning that writing fiction, something I love to do, could have the same effect as playing a sport on my brain was intriguing. Apparently, skilled authors working on a plot twist are using the same broad regions of their brain as people performing complex activities like sports or music. This does not come as a surprise to me after working on my books. I know how mentally and physically exhausting and rejuvenating a solid writing session can be!

One of my favorite NaNoWriMo tees! I have it on a poster.

One of my favorite NaNoWriMo tees! I have it on a poster.

Neuroscientists have discovered that certain regions of the brain will light up when a person is creating a story because they are most likely visualizing the scene. Other areas light up as an author retrieves information to use in the story. Still other areas light up when a writer is juggling several plotlines and characters. Novice writers tended to activate the visual centers during brainstorming while seasoned authors tended to activate the speech centers.

Seasoned authors also activated the caudate nucleus. This is the area that coordinates brain activity when complex tasks become automatic. For example, when you are first learning a new skill you have to give it your full concentration, but after you do it a few hundred times, the coordination and thought process can become rote. That is when the caudate nucleus kicks in.

What the heck am I talking about and why am I so excited by this piece of information?

It means that the process of creativity can become a habit with practice! As a novice writer, that seems like a dream come true! Creating scenes and plot twists may become easier as my brain becomes more accustomed to making things up. How awesome is that!? 🙂

once upon a time2

Another article on Daily Infographic explained that writing and storytelling can have other wonderous results for the brain. Studies at Princeton University showed that when a person tells a story, the listeners brain activity goes into sync with the storyteller’s brain. This has to do with a stories ability to plant emotions, thoughts and ideas in the listener’s brain.

Perhaps the best news yet is that writing can have side effects similar to those of meditation. The brain slows and you are in the zone. Journalers have long known that stream of consciousness writing is a great way to de-stress! I learned first hand in NaNoWriMo that allowing myself to drop into the story and just let the words flow was a wonderful way to forget the day.

How does writing help you? Do you think of it as a meditation or a wild game?

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

NaNoWriMo Week 1- The Writing Brain

I am sad that life and juggling work projects has interfered with my chasing NaNoWriMo this year. But, I am still here for moral support for all the crazy writers who took the plunge. And for those of you who have never tried it… It is a roller coaster that I cannot recommend highly enough!

 

This is Your Brain on Writing

Last June, an article with the same title was written by Carl Zimmer and appeared in the NY Times. It started, “A novelist scrawling away in a notebook in seclusion may not seem to have much in common with an NBA player doing a reverse layup on a basketball court before a screaming crowd. But if you could peer inside their heads, you might see some striking similarities in how their brains were churning.” And I was hooked.

I have never been athletic so learning that writing fiction, something I love to do, could have the same effect as playing a sport on my brain was intriguing. Apparently, skilled authors working on a plot twist are using the same broad regions of their brain as people performing complex activities like sports or music. This does not come as a surprise to me after working on my books. I know how mentally and physically exhausting and rejuvenating a solid writing session can be!

One of my favorite NaNoWriMo tees! I have it on a poster.

One of my favorite NaNoWriMo tees! I have it on a poster.

Neuroscientists have discovered that certain regions of the brain will light up when a person is creating a story because they are most likely visualizing the scene. Other areas light up as an author retrieves information to use in the story. Still other areas light up when a writer is juggling several plotlines and characters. Novice writers tended to activate the visual centers during brainstorming while seasoned authors tended to activate the speech centers.

Seasoned authors also activated the caudate nucleus. This is the area that coordinates brain activity when complex tasks become automatic. For example, when you are first learning a new skill you have to give it your full concentration, but after you do it a few hundred times, the coordination and thought process can become rote. That is when the caudate nucleus kicks in.

What the heck am I talking about and why am I so excited by this piece of information?

It means that the process of creativity can become a habit with practice! As a novice writer, that seems like a dream come true! Creating scenes and plot twists may become easier as my brain becomes more accustomed to making things up. How awesome is that!? 🙂

once upon a time2

Another article on Daily Infographic explained that writing and storytelling can have other wonderous results for the brain. Studies at Princeton University showed that when a person tells a story, the listeners brain activity goes into sync with the storyteller’s brain. This has to do with a stories ability to plant emotions, thoughts and ideas in the listener’s brain.

Perhaps the best news yet is that writing can have side effects similar to those of meditation. The brain slows and you are in the zone. Journalers have long known that stream of consciousness writing is a great way to de-stress! I learned first hand in NaNoWriMo that allowing myself to drop into the story and just let the words flow was a wonderful way to forget the day.

How does writing help you? Do you think of it as a meditation or a wild game?

Monday Morning Pick-Me-Up

Let’s face it. Monday’s are rough. The end of the freedom that came with the weekend, the start of a long week, the return to work. To help ease you into your week, I wanted to share a little something that made me smile.

Returning To Blank Pages

Five years ago, I wrote about blank books and blank pages. I talked about a wonderful book called, Leaving a Trace, which I still pull off the shelf for inspiration. Please do yourself a favor – find a blank book, a good pen and pick up a copy of this book!

Blank books and blank pages

“Life had accumulated, not nearly passed.” ~Annie Dillard

Today, I would like to talk about journaling in celebration of May Sarton’s birthday (5/3/1912).  For those of you who are not familiar with her work, May Sarton wrote poems and fiction, but is perhaps best remembered for her journals.

In her book, Leaving a Trace, Alexandra Johnson said “a journal is how memory and meaning finally meet.”  I believe this is true.  A lot of life doesn’t make much sense until we are able to look back on it from a distance.  Keeping a journal helps us do this.

My grandma (Grahamcracker) kept a journal that she filled with stories of growing up and stories that she made up.  I took these journals, that were both written and recorded, and transcribed them.  I had them made into a bound book for her and her children and her children’s children as a gift to her on her 93rd birthday.  She had always wanted to be published, and I wanted to give her that.  She passed away shortly after that, and I cherish the words that she wrote about her life.  It connects me to her.

Now, many people of all ages keep journals or diaries, or at least feel that they should.  There in, lies the problem.  A journal should be loose, an extension of yourself.  The minute you put the “should” in there, it becomes more like a noose around your neck.  You start to feel like you have to put in a certain amount of pages or minutes every single day and that everything written there must be profound.

WRONG!

There should be no “shoulds” in journal writing.  Loosen up a little!  If you find that strict rules make you buckle down and put pen to paper, then ok, but I don’t know that the experience will be nearly as enjoyable as it would be if you approached it with a little less discipline. A little of this, a little of that, and in the end, you have a picture of your life, painted in your words.

I have always had a fascination with beautiful blank journals – the smooth leather, the fancy high quality paper, the heft and smell of them.  But the problem I have with these blank journals is they usually stay blank.  I find that when faced with the idea of marring their pristine pages with my meanderings, I am frozen.  I end up not writing anything at all.  So, I recommend buying a spiral notebook at your local drugstore.  I go for college-ruled, three subjects because I like the smaller size.  They are not too costly, come in pretty colors, and I don’t feel bad writing a lot of garbage in them.

Pens are the same.  Fountain pens or expensive gel pens are fine if that is your preference, but make sure the ink doesn’t soak through the pages or have a lengthy dry time.  If you don’t, you will end up with a lot of illegible words in the end.

Don’t worry about following a lot of rules.  There is no specific format you need to follow – write letters, details of your daily life, make lists, use prompts, take a walk through your memories – it all works.

To get the most out of journaling, you need to turn off your inner censor and just let the words come.  I think that is true of most things in life.

Never write with an eye toward a specific audience.  You should write a journal only for yourself, or maybe to leave to your kids, but never with an eye to publication.  Most people won’t be famous enough in life to warrant having their journals published, and that is just as well.

Leave grand topics for another day.  Unless the meaning of life is burning a hole in your brain, you don’t need to write about it.  You don’t need to solve all the problems of the world in your journal.  Write about everyday occurrences, things you do or dream of doing, people you know, places you go, and the little things that happen to you.  These little things are actually the big things when you look back on your life.

As Jill Badonsky wrote in The Awe-manac, May Sarton “wrote about her daily habits, like gardening, washing the dishes, taking care of pets, and looking at the ocean.  She referred to her journals as ‘sacramentalization’ of ordinary life.  I think she made that word up, but I like it.”

I like it, too.  Writing about the everyday things brings the extraordinary to the ordinary.  It makes you open your eyes and look around you.  It helps you to really see the beauty and wonder of your life.  And it is only when we understand the little things, that we can begin to tackle the big grand ideas.

 

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