Appreciating Spontaneous Moments

It should have been easy. I wrote about showing gratitude and decided to tweet  something I was grateful or thankful for at least once each day until Thanksgiving. It was only 10 days. Wow! Not so easy. Because I was tweeting it, the first things that came to mind seemed so silly. “I’m thankful for my family,” “I’m grateful for the tiny little things that most of us take for granted everyday.” Duh! I wanted to think bigger, so I focused on my students instead of family. (Hey, it was a start!)

In the end, I realize I set this mini-goal to force myself to focus on and make time for that creative part of me that gets pushed aside every year at this time. What is gratitude but finding thankfulness? It’s celebrating some part of ourselves or our lives that is not frequently acknowledged. So, I began to think about the little things that truly make me happy, that make me appreciate my life—now. Not how I’d like it to be, but how it is in the present.

I’ve blogged about some of them in the past: the way I like to wake every morning with the blinds slanted so I can see the sunshine slowly brighten the white pines behind my building, and gratitude for a lifestyle that allows me a day or two a week (even during my busiest time of year) to savor my thoughts with my coffee and write in my journal before heading off to wherever I need to be that day.

Slowly, the things I posted focused on the bigger picture and the spontaneous parts of my day. Rejoicing in the luxury of allowing the creative thoughts to flow for not one project but 3! Changing plans to meet a friend for lunch instead of dinner as planned and then running into another friend who joined us. Learning about my latest book placing as finalist in its category for a book award. The energy and excitement my publisher and editors generated about this news.

Focusing on gratitude worked. By Wednesday, not only was I having a fantastic day in the kitchen, but I was enjoying all the busy-ness of work (my writing and teaching projects). And, the creative juices have been flowing ever since. So, dare yourself to savor the small details in life. Find the positive in the unexpected changes or challenges life provides. You may be surprised by the results. I’m grateful I was challenged—and pleasantly surprised.

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Testing Ingredients. Discarding Scenes

In addition to writing, I enjoy a variety of creative endeavors. Sewing, watercolor painting, counted cross stitch, crafting, making scrapbooks and collages are just a few.  I also like to get creative in the kitchen. I find a lot of similarities between writing and cooking and baking. Perhaps because I like to alter recipes as I cook. I call it “editing” recipes as I adapt them to my taste. Also, as I chop and pare, slice and mix, my mind is engaged on following a recipe while it is also plotting and planning my current project.

In fact, I usually spend a good portion of my weekend in the kitchen making meals for the coming week. This weekend, however, none of my recipes turned out. I tried to blend two muffin recipes to create a “harvest fruit” muffin. Dud! I think I needed more baking powder or perhaps some baking soda. And, I plain forgot to include an ingredient in one dish until it was in the oven. Too bad I couldn’t pull it out and add it (which is a wonderful revision technique for writing but doesn’t bode well with step-by-step instructions).

But, in the end, I wasn’t upset. First, not all the kitchen mishaps were inedible. Second, the time spent perfectly links with writing. Like these failed  recipes, sometimes we need to write scenes in stories, only to discard them later. It’s not that they are awful; it’s that they don’t work with the other “ingredients” in the story for the most tasty outcome.

I think this is one of the hardest things for newer writers to understand about revising. Sometimes we need to write a specific scene with a character but its purpose is to help us further develop that character. It doesn’t necessarily need to remain in the finished story. And sometimes, we need to add a scene (or ingredient) to boost suspense or keep the reader hooked. In the end, the reader doesn’t need to know all that you had to accomplish in the kitchen—or even how many attempts it took to get the “recipe” right. The reader only cares about how tasty the end result is.

So, test your ingredients and don’t be afraid to toss the “duds.” Happy writing!

10 Days of Gratitude

My favorite holiday is coming up. No, not Christmas; Thanksgiving. As a younger member of a large family, Thanksgiving was a time to come together, catch-up, and share what we were thankful for. I enjoyed keeping nieces and nephews amused while my mother and sisters prepared our wonderful meals.

Yes, meals, plural. We ate  — all day long — first a huge Thanksgiving breakfast, then an mid-afternoon turkey dinner followed in a few hours with pie and later in the evening the first of the turkey sandwiches and leftovers. In between we gathered as a family to watch a TV program or movie, play a game, and share memories. And we laughed — a lot!

Though we had traditions, I recall a lot of acceptance and change, too. For example, sisters-in-law as well as my older sisters brought new side dishes to the meal. The variety of enticing aromas — turkey, sweet potatoes, apples and cinnamon, pumpkin — mingled with the tangy taste of pickles and salty olives which we pilfered from the condiments tray. Everything seemed to mix and fit. I don’t recall my mother ever complaining, though I faced that resistance from the mothers of past boyfriends. And, we kept this ever-expanding family together at a single holiday table. No kiddie tables to divide the group. (I assume my father, brothers, and brothers-in-law were engineering a way for all of us to eat at a single table. And it definitely was in our finished rec-room basement, not the dining area which would never have fit all of us.)

So, as far back as I can recall, Thanksgiving was the first of the coming-together for the holidays. Good food, special holiday dishes, and the love and encouragement of family is what this holiday mean for me. And as a younger child in a large family, I did have plenty of encouragement. For that I am grateful.

In honor I plan to reflect on all I am grateful for as the holiday approaches. The first is my family. Wishing all peace and blessing during the coming holidays!

Listening to the Silence

It’s the beginning of the first full week of a new month. I actually remembered to turn my clocks back, a miracle actually. (I’m usually one of those people who forget and one year I set it forward in November. That was embarrassing when I showed up really early for work!!)

Anyway, though the clocks back to the regular time, my body still isn’t. When I got up super early this morning it was foggy. I like to see the trees and pond through the fog and then watch as the “cloud” lifts. I make a note in my journal. (Never know when I’ll need the description for a story.)

I was surprised not to hear workers on the golf course or even birds chattering among the trees. In fact, it was quite silent. It was a new sound to experience. I know how strange it seems to say I sat and listened to the silence, but I did. I enjoyed the simplicity of the morning. I reveled in the lack of noise. It was peaceful, relaxing, a fantastic start to the day.

I’m so glad I was up early enough to listen to the morning awaken.

Permission to be Playful

This has been a busy week (well, month and year, too) so I’m pleased that I’ve managed to keep juggling everything. In fact, it feels like an accomplishment to move from project to project and workshop to workshop. Yes! I can do it all and have fun too!

I can’t do this without a good planner, so I’ve been looking for a solution. Something better than I’ve used in the past; something inspirational. I think I’ve found it. At least, I found a site last week that looks promising: Bloom:  grow-your-joy

It’s bright and fun. It has quotes (always a plus) and it has a weekly newsletter which I signed up for. Of course, I didn’t have a chance to read it until just before I left for a conference. But, I’ve thought about the advice: To have fun. To connect with my inner child. To do something like turning cartwheels or blowing bubbles. Just, have fun!

While I had a great time at the conference, I came home with so much to process. I needed to do something but I couldn’t really focus until I sorted through all this new info and how I planned to use it. And, I kept thinking about child-like fun.

Finally, I grabbed some markers and crayons left over from a children’s program. And I colored. I found some kids’ coloring pages online and I colored. It was fun. And, just as when I was a kid, I thought about my stories while I colored. I even printed a second copy to scribble outside the lines.

It was a enjoyable, and it was productive. I thought about a new scene for my novel-in-progress. I also discovered the seed of a short story idea. Most importantly, I found the joy in just selecting colors and doing something quiet.

What a gift, the permission to be playful and childlike. To find joy in something simple to help balance a complicated life. I can’t wait until Wednesday when another newsletter arrives to help me grow my joy!