Being Your Own Cheerleader

30 Oct
being your own cheerleader

Image by Keith Allison via Creative Commons

At the beginning of September, I realized I was not satisfied with the results of my existing fitness plan and decided to try a completely new approach I’ve never tried before—heavy weightlifting. (Bear with me a minute — there’s a point.)

About eight weeks in, I can see some signs of improvement … I’m lifting heavier weights every couple weeks, and I can certainly feel some difference in the size of my actual muscles, too. But do I look like the lean ripped gym rock stars that scroll in my Pinterest feed? Not even close. So I end up feeling frustrated and discouraged.

Which is, of course, ridiculous. In all likelihood the images I’m aspiring to aren’t even real. Not to mention anyone that ripped has been blessed by genetics coupled with years and years of dedicated weightlifting. And yet I want instant, perfect results.

I get like this with my writing, too. (See? There it is. Point.)

Over the last four years, I’ve been dedicated to writing fiction daily, I’ve decidedly gotten better at my craft. But the fact that I don’t have a published novel yet? Some days the failure to meet that irrational expectation (some people take 10 years, or even longer, to finish a novel, let alone the years it takes to acquire an agent, and then a publisher, and then bring a work through the publisher’s editorial process and get it on the shelf) makes my accomplishments so far seem like nothing.

Even worse, no matter what I put into reaching a goal, once I reach it, it no longer feels like a big deal to me—I fail to give myself credit for all that went into reaching it. As Groucho Marx once said, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that would have me.” Or in other words, if I can do it, anyone probably can, so it’s not that big a deal.

The problem here, of course, is that all this talking down to myself does nothing to help me on this very long journey to reaching my publishing goals. The way to keep yourself going through this rocky process is to be positive, give yourself the love you deserve, and celebrate the small accomplishments along the way.

It’s not always easy to be your own cheerleader. But it’s important. So rah rah shish boom bah. Etc.

Here’s a few ways I’ve found help me do this:

  1. Being self-aware. I feel lucky to be aware enough about myself to be realize when I talk myself down and what triggers it. It just comes from lots of listening to the voices in your head. Journaling can help with this.
  2. Getting outside perspective. I get this from my loved ones, from my writing group, and from reading blogs and engaging with the online writer community. I especially love stories from other writers about their journey to publication. This helps me grow, keep a healthy perspective on the process, and remember how far I’ve come.
  3. Talk about it. Share your process with aforementioned outside support. Stating your accomplishments out loud can make you more aware of how far you’ve come. Just having people to celebrate with can make you more likely to celebrate your small victories.

Inevitably, we’ll all get discouraged sometimes. But with some coping mechanisms to help us stay positive and keep perspective, we can stay on course. Remember to celebrate those little victories along the way to keep you going while you keep your eyes on those bigger goals.

How do you keep yourself going when process is slow? How do you celebrate the little victories along the way?

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‘The Dirty Truth’: Don’t Follow Your Passion

16 Oct

My husband stopped my writing last weekend to read an article from Mike Rowe’s The Dirty Truth (the Dirty Jobs guy).

You can read the full article here, but the key point can be summed up with this:

“Like all bad advice, ‘Follow Your Passion’ is routinely dispensed as though its wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not.”

What does someone trying to chase a passion do with something like that? It’s all about keeping one foot on the ground while the other chases those dreams in the clouds.

Maintain a solid foundation.

If you’re only going to be happy making a living off your passion, you may want to reconsider your situation. The stereotype of the starving artist whose desperation drives their creative vision is outdated. Instead, find a way to support yourself so that you are comfortable and can sustain a happy, balanced life while you shoot for the stars.

Seek opportunities to develop.

Find a community in your area that lets you interact with others who share your passion. Take classes. Stay connected. This keeps you in touch with the industry and gives you a network of support and the outside perspective critical for growth.

Let passion spill into the rest of your life.

Just because there is a creative passion project you’re chasing, that’s no reason not to live the rest of your life passionately too. I think a lot of creative do this naturally, but it can be just as easy to see a day job as nothing but, and think you need to keep all your passion locked up for that one thing. Not so—passion breeds more passion. Share it, and it comes back to you.

In conclusion, well, I think Rowe said it best:

“Passion is too fickle to be guided by, but too important to live without – don’t let it lead you, but always take it with you.”

 

How does your passion fit into your life?

 

Do You Listen While You Work?

22 Sep
do you listen while you work?

Image by grendelkhan

Science has proven many times over that listening to music while you work can improve your focus and enhance your creativity.

In fact, music encourages the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward center, which can trigger enjoyment similar to eating a delicacy, according to a Mayo Clinic expert in this New York Times article. The article also states that music can keep your thoughts focused on the present moment and encourage you to think in new ways.

The expert in this article says music without lyrics works best, and other studies back that up—one study went so far as to single out a particular minuet by Mozart as boosting productivity particularly well. Other studies suggest that the genre of music is less important than choosing something you’re unfamiliar with, and even other information, like these facts on the Coffeeitivity website, indicate creativity can be enhanced with simply “a moderate level of ambient noise.”

But in practice, of course, it all really comes down to preference.

Personally, I love to listen to classical string music to pull myself into a deep focus for big projects. Other times, I need some Black Sabbath to pull me out of a funk and back on track. Usually around 2 p.m. on those days that just. won’t. end. Sometimes having anything in my ears is just too much going on in my head and I crave silence.

And on occasion I have been known to take the ridiculous step of using Coffeeitifity to block out the voices around me with other, coffee-shop white-noise voices. I don’t know what to tell you other than that it works.

What do you listen to while you work? What makes a good song for focus and creativity?

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Dig Your Way Out of a Creative Rut

16 Aug

Following a long vacation, I’ve been struggling to get back into my normal productivity flow this week. Though maybe if I’m honest I’ve been a bit stuck in a rut all summer.

No big. It happens. And not infrequently, either. I don’t know if my way is the best way, but hitting an occasional rut is something I’ve just accepted as part of my high-demand work flow doubling up a full-time job with the side projects I love.

All the same, it’s high time to dig myself back out.

how to get out of a creative rut

Because I face ruts semifrequently, I’ve learned ways to get myself back out from them. And this time, because I’m so stuck, I did some research and found a few new tactics.

Here’s my favorites:

Show up.
It sounds obvious, but when you feel like you’re in a rut (especially a vacation rut), sometimes the hardest part is just peeling yourself away from the TV. In these situations, I rely heavily on my habits to get me back on track.

Even if you’re sure you couldn’t possibly do anything worthwhile today, just get yourself in front of your work-in-progress. It may not be immediate, but if you make this a regular habit, your muse will start showing up too.

Be present.
Stop with the to-dos and the texting and the TV and all the other white noise. Remove yourself from your busy normal environment and go somewhere your regular distractions can’t reach you. Now, give your creative project your entire focus.

Sometimes if it’s my to-do list stressing me out, I give my to-dos my full attention first and knock them out, then come back to my creative work. 

Indulge.
Ruts can be a sign you are overworking yourself. When this happens, I often let myself have the break my brain is begging for. I’ll let myself oversleep, read and watch TV for a day, just spend time with my loved ones. And then the next day I get right back to it, a little more rested.

Start small.
Write down all the things you have to do, then order them from easiest to hardest. Then just start with number one and plug your way through. When you start with the easiest tasks, you get the thrill of crossing off your to-dos and before you know it, oh look, you’re already halfway through.

Read a book about your passion/expertise.
This is a great way to learn, expand your abilities and understanding, and get the latest developments in your field. And it never fails to get me excited about my craft again and give me new ideas.

We all hit ruts sometimes. The trick is to face it head-on and not let it stop you in your tracks. Whenever I hit a rut, some combination of these tactics pulls me back out and gets me focused again.

 

How do you get out of a rut?

Which Kind of Creative Are You?

24 Jul which kind of creative are you?

There’s two kinds of creatives in this world: habit keepers and flow chasers.

Habit keepers develop habits that let them get their work done methodically, like writing 1,000 words every day. They work to their goal, then top, sticking to that habit no matter what, come hell or high water or even a family vacation.

which kind of creative are you?Flow chasers work furiously through an entire night if they hit a creative flow. And when the flow is gone, they may not touch the project again for days, even weeks, while they wait for inspiration to strike again.

Our natural tendencies tend to put us in one camp or the other. I’m a habit keeper—I need that daily touch on my work to stay connected to it. If I don’t see some kind of slow but steady progress, I lose faith that I can ever bring it to conclusion.

There’s really nothing wrong with either of these approaches. Not inherently. Each has its strengths and each its weaknesses. But habit keepers and flow chasers can learn some important lessons from each other about maximizing our creativity.

Habit keepers can learn to be open to inspiration outside of our assigned time for creative work. If you feel it coming, it’s okay to chase it. It’s also okay to let your work ebb and flow sometimes.

And flow chasers can learn how to stay disciplined between moments of flow, and how to push through the dry spells—showing up consistently teachers your muse to show up, too.

The greatest-greats among creative masters across history are people who have learned both how to harness discipline like the habit keeper and to let inspiration harness them like the flower chaser.

Which are you, a habit keeper or a flow chaser? What are your creative work tendencies?

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