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A black-cap chickadee flutters to the bare bush ahead of me. My bird dog trains her nose to the trail and misses the bird. Neither of us is a prime hiker, but we are both elated to be outdoors. Swedetown Trail spans uphill into the leafless woods of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The air crisps in my nostrils, and I puff steam like an old ore wagon, steadily moving upward.
Another chickadee flits and I wonder if they are living in this brush. Migrators fled south months ago. Like me, these are the birds holding out through winter, curious to see what Lake Superior drives our way next. She’s blustered, but not sent us any more snow. I’ve driven to her shores in hopes of one more rock hunt, but waves slam in a relentless line.
Writers can be relentless, too. I march my fingers to the page and write until my shoulder aches. Either I push through like a wave and hit the keys again and again, or I pause to stretch. All the words, all the stories, all the imaginative ideas won’t ever fully punch the page the way I see it in my mind’s eye. The wonder of it all drives me, though.
And yet, I’ve come up short, once again. Why is it that I count my progress as shortcomings rather than short gains? It’s a beach stone I’m tumbling in my thoughts these days. I resist formal measurement, recognizing its pitfalls, that numbers are not always the full picture. And yet we need to measure progress: pages, words, hours. What we want to see are big results: chapters, books, posts. We want completion.
NaNoWriMo offers both the push and the results. I can now say I appreciate it most for drafting new material and revising when writing is the focus. For my NaNo Rebelling, I did great with my opening rewrite of the first three chapters. But then it was following threads, and nipping material and replacing locations. My progress bogged.
And then I received a gig with a professional author (when you publish more than ten books and can afford editors and designers by merit of your book sales, you’ve made a career). It was one of those chance happenings, both the editor and back-up editor were unavailable. Yet, I doubted my ability. I accepted and plunged into editing two novellas instead of editing my own.
Okay, here’s where even I think I’m weird. I edited the same number of words for someone else that I had waiting for my pen. Hers was slicing pie; mine was ripping copper ore from basalt. Perspective. In the end, the project taught me how to focus during developmental edits. I bombed NaNoWriMo, but I aced the gig. I’m making my edits harder than they need to be. And watching a pro’s process, I know I need to just dive in and not feel so angsty about my writing.
Because I love writing.
Do you ever feel like an imposter? It’s a real thing called imposter syndrome. While my daughter was at work, she sent me this article where I was working from my home office in her dining room: Does Remote Work Increase Imposter Syndrome Risk? It’s worth a read for all writers because we rarely feel confident stating, “I’m a writer,” and even professional authors balk at feeling like they really are.
Which brings me to self-care.
We can’t push relentlessly like Lake Superior on a blustery day. Nor can we beat ourselves up over our percieved short-comings. We can’t let life constantly drive our reactions. At some point, we need to make deliberate choices for a balanced life. What does that look like? It’s a good question and one we’ll each answer differently.
For me, it’s taking breaks for my back to stretch gently, and yet also having focused times to work. I use the Pomodoro Technique to organize my tasks, focus and move my body. However, I found it disruptive for tasks I know take longer focus, like writing and editing. So I also use 50/20/50 minute increments with an allowance for 50/50 tasks. I plug into focus (or study) music to tune out distractions.
Balance means to me, allowing time to process. My brain is like a BriteLite panel with lots of colorful pegs. I know the pattern, but each pegs lights up one at a time. I’m working on lighting up sections instead of lighting random pegs. I make sure I write every day. Every. Day. After a year of homelessness and writing every day, I no longer give power to disruptions. Every day, I battle the resistance to creating (read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield).
That means I’m choosing to fill my mind with what is good and useful. Those nagging self-doubts I mentioned earlier? I will always have them. But I choose not to believe them. It’s a small shift in perspective that leads to huge impact. I’m not a writer, you say inner critic? Too bad, I’m writing anyways. I’m listening to audiobooks that open my mind. Figure out what expands you, what you’re passionate about (rocks, anyone?) and give over to seeking it, learning about it, incorporating it into what you write.
That picture for the post? That’s what a balanced meal looks like to me. Instead of hunkering over my keys eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I unplug, drink water, prepare a simple, healthful and tasty meal (because good food should taste good). Once a day, I play Bananagrams. It’s a word anagram game that stimulates vocabulary. I also read and walk daily. And no, I’m not perfect. Life happens, moods rise and fall, and word counts and walks get missed.
In August, I hired a life coach for three months and it was the best decision for self-care I could have made. My coach, Alexis Donkin, is offering tips on how to create a holiday self-care plan. If the holidays feel like a stressful time, consider creating your own plan or working with someone, even a mentor or partner. A life coach can help you take action in the areas of your life that need attention.
So how might this translate into fiction?
November 30, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes self-care. Does the character need it? What does the character do? Think about how you can use this action to deepen a character or move a story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by December 5, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published December 6). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Socks for Self-Care (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Dr. Danni Gordon! Good to see you!”
Danni unloaded her ruck sack and hugged Carly. “Thank you for making homeless vets your beneficiary this year.”
“Anything to help our military.”
Danni had sent Carly a list to broadcast: socks, toothbrushes, blankets. Spread out on a long table, women organized the items before packing into backpacks for the homeless in Spokane. Danni added Army surplus socks to the pile.
“What an ugly green,” said one woman.
Danni explained. “It’s a familiar color and texture to these men. Sometimes familiarity is the path to self-care for those who’ve lost their way.”