What Should I Do?

Curious Zoe

What should I do?!

Overwhelm is one of the biggest, most pervasive stumbling blocks we run into in our creative lives.  We all suffer from it at least now and then, and if you have multiple creative passions (like me!), you can get hit with it just about every day.

It’s especially easy to fall into overwhelm when we’re trying to figure out what to do next, either on a current project or in starting a new one, but it can hit at any stage of the process.

The good news is, you don’t have to stay in overwhelm when it comes.  In Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coaching, we often call ourselves overwhelm busters because this is one of the issues we work on the most with clients.  We know you don’t have to live with it, and now you know, too.

So how do you get out of overwhelm?

My favorite technique for getting through overwhelm and back into creative fun is taking small steps. I mean tiny!  The littlest ever, and if you think it’s small try to make it smaller. It sounds kind of silly.  It can be, and that’s good because having fun helps subdue the overwhelm beast.  You can make a game out of finding the littlest step ever.  Just break your tasks down, and you’ll start moving forward again.

What does it look like to break something down into the smallest steps?  It looks like deciding to do a project and making grand plans that are so big they leave you frozen.  So you make the steps smaller but still feel overwhelmed.  So you make the steps smaller, and so on until you find a step you can actually take without the overwhelm.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say this is you: “I want to write a novel!  I need to write 1,000 words a day!”  (Cue overwhelm.) You realize you need to break things down.  That could look like this:

  • I’m going to write one scene (that still feels like a lot–stirrings of overwhelm)
  • I’m going to write one page (still some overwhelm)
  • I’m going to write one paragraph (feeling better but still not sure about everything to put in there so you still find yourself avoiding it)
  • I’m going to write one sentence.  (Great!  Most days this step might be small enough, but some days you might still feel some overwhelm)
  • I’m going to take out my notebook and pen/open the story document/create a story document (this one is doable)

Do the smallest thing you can find to do for your project.  You can do an entire project this way, one teensy, tinsy small step at a time, honest (and you can do one step more than once a day, too, if you feel like it). Often you’ll find yourself doing more once you get your toe in the door.  But if you don’t, if you do just the smallest step, that’s progress.  Pat yourself on the back and keep doing it!

 

Take It Easy

Red Doors 01

An easy entrance

Life is busy.  Sometimes, it feels really hard because there’s always so much to do. And then we want to write books or paint pictures or create things on top of everything else! We have to figure out a way to fit it in, and when we do that, then comes the really hard part. We have to get started!

Is getting started really the hardest thing, though? A lot of us have it in our heads that starting is hard (I know I do). I’ve heard the phrase “getting started is the hardest part” so many times, about so many things–diet, exercise, writing, pretty much everything I might actually want to do–that it’s kind of ingrained as truth now.

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking starting is hard, but it might not actually be so hard after all.  Especially if we go out of our way to make it a little bit easier.

If you have a tough time getting started on projects, make a decision that you’re going to do everything you can to make this project easy.  Deciding up front that it’s going to be an easy project, and reminding yourself as you go that this is going to be a smooth-sailing, easy thing, can change how you perceive your project.  Deciding that it’s going to be easy can make it feel easier.

But back to getting started.  A lot of projects seem to have a natural starting place–chapter one, the first quilting stitches, the first strokes of paint on canvas.  These are where we begin, right? But do we have to?

Instead of beginning in what seems like the one-and-only starting place, look for easy entries into what you want to do:

  • Want to write an article?  Make a quick list of things you want to put in.
  • Want to create an outline for your novel?  Set up the document first before deciding anything else.
  • Want to paint a picture?  Set out your canvas and brushes and paints (or, if that’s a lot right now, just set out your canvas and save the brushes and paints for later).

Then walk away.  Save the list or the outline document.  Tighten the paint caps.  Leave.  You have started.  And it was easy, right?

Now, keep doing things this way.  Every time you’re going to work on your project, look for what feels easiest to do.  Every time you sit down to work, ask yourself “what can I do to make this easy?”  The easy thing might be the next part in the work, or it might be something that you would normally think of doing later in the process.  Go by what feels easy and doable, not what “should” come next.

Creativity doesn’t have to be hard work.  It’s okay for things to be easy whenever you can make them that way.  Your work won’t suffer from making it easier, and you’ll enjoy it more if it’s not a struggle.  Give yourself a break.  Take the easy way.

If You Were to Retreat

I imagine retreats recharging me and giving me lots of time to dream.

I imagine retreats recharging me and giving me lots of time to dream.

I’ve been thinking about retreats a lot lately.  I’ve never been on a big group one, although there are some I would love to go on and will get to someday.  But I’ve been thinking about what I’d like in a retreat, why I want to go on one.  I’d like to host some.  Some one-day retreats, some weekend retreats.  Maybe at some point a whole week retreat.

As I’m dreaming about retreats and brainstorming hosting some of my own, I’m wondering about what the rest of you might like, might be interested in, etc.  So, if you don’t mind, would you take a moment to answer a few questions? I’ll keep you posted on what I come up with after getting some feedback. Thanks!

If you were going on a creative or writing retreat, how long would you want it to be?

Why would you like to go on a creative or writing retreat?

Man, I Feel Like a…

Writer. Artist. Painter. Photographer.

I am

What makes you feel like that, like the thing you want to be?

The usual response to this is: If you want to be a writer, write, then you’re a writer.  (Same holds true for painting, photography, etc. I’m just going to use “writer” as my example here.)  This is good advice.  Writers write, so to be a writer, you should write.

I think there’s more to it, though.  Doing the work will help you feel like what you want to be, but there are things that you can do and be part of that can maginify that belief in yourself. Sometimes you have experiences that plunge you deep into that I AM feeling.  It may be for just a moment, but for that little space of time you feel your writerliness down to your bones.

One of these experiences happened for me several years ago.  I had the wonderful good fortune to get in on a writing workshop led by Charles de Lint, my favorite author.  It was a small workshop, only fifteen of us.  And we sat at a table all together and talked about writing and fantasy stories and characters, and later we talked about the business of being a writer.  And we spent some time writing and then read our works aloud and Mr. de Lint gave us feedback.  And I floated out of there on a cloud, and I knew– KNEW –that I am a writer.  I felt it!   I lose that feeling sometimes, but remembering this experience helps me bring it back.

Other things that help me grab hold of that feeling–writing in a coffee shop (actually writing, especially on a story, and not just free writing and not planning or character work or any of that); attending writing conferences; talking shop (plotting, characters, all of that) with a small group of active writers.

So my recommendation?  Do your thing, of course.  Write, paint, shoot, bake, knit, whatever it is.  But also seek out experiences that feel to you like what a “real” writer would do, and do as many of those things as you can.  Build up that feeling in yourself of I AM.  Carry it with you to help you ride through the dry spells that come to all of us.  Take it out into the world and let everyone know what you are.

It’s 2015–Where’s My Robot?

Fireworks Behind Tree
Happy New Year!  Yes, I know we’re almost two weeks into it.  That’s okay–it’s still pretty new.  And I’ve been getting things in order in my house (seriously, where’s that robot maid?) and in my planning.  And now I’m finally feeling together enough to write something up and really get this year rolling.

What do you do for the new year? Do you make resolutions?  Pick a word for the year?  Skip all of that?

I skip over the resolutions for the most part.  For one thing, I’m always making plans, tweaking them, setting new goals.  Resolutions just feel redundant.  The past couple of years, though, I have been setting experience goals.  In 2013 it was to try a new restaurant every month.  That one was great fun, and we found a couple of favorite spots that way.  Last year the goal was to try at least one new recipe a month, and that was a pretty big success, too, even though I wasn’t as on top of keeping a list of what I tried so some of the recipes are off in the ether somewhere.  This year, I’m going to go on a photo walk every month. I love doing them, yet I hardly ever make the time.  I’m going to go someplace new each month and take photos (I may allow myself to include a couple of favorite spots I haven’t been to in years because it’s been so long that they’re practically new).

Now about that word.  I tried it out several years ago when doing it became really popular.  I loved the idea of it!  I picked a word, wrote it in my journal, forgot about it by January 3.  A couple of years later I decided that the problem was that I didn’t have any reminders of my word, so I decided to create these fun prayer flags.  I picked three words for that year and made flags for each one.  I hung them in my study, and occasionally I remembered to pay attention to them, but the exercise still seemed pretty pointless to me.  I quit doing the word-of-the-year for a couple of years.  But so many people I really like and respect were doing this word-of-the-year thing that I wanted to give it another go.  I knew, though,  that I needed to do something to keep my word fresh in my mind so it could actually be a guiding light, so I held off until I could figure out something that felt like it would work.

This was four (I think?) years ago.  At the same time as deciding to give the yearly word another go, I got an UnCalendar.  And a great idea was born.  Every week before I fill out plans and dates for the week, I write my word at the top of the left-hand page.  It makes me focus on my word each week if even for a moment, plus it keeps the word right there in front of me every time I open my calendar.  I won’t say that I live by my words constantly, but writing it and seeing it every week does help me keep it in mind and make some decisions with that feeling in mind.

This year my word is “expansive.”  I have “devotion” and “bigness” alongside it to keep it company, just to see if having multiple words changes anything for me.  This word, this idea of expansiveness, feels huge to me.  It feels like a stretch.  It feels a little scary and like living an expansive life might be something I don’t know how to do.  It’s a good word.

Mostly the things I do to set up the new year are designed to give me a feeling of possibilities, fun, and a clean slate.  I think those are great things to start a year with and much lighter than resolutions and plans to give things up and all that.

And you? What are you doing? How are you starting this new year?  I’d love to hear all about it.

Muse Moon

Full Moon 01

I love the full moon.  I love watching the moon in general, but the full moon is especially spectacular and always feels special.  I never lose interest, never get tired of looking at it.

I’ve been a moon and star watcher since I was little.  My mother would often find me standing in the back yard just looking at the sky, and if she ever wanted to know if the moon was full or when it would next be full she just asked me.  I always knew, just from watching the sky all the time.

I got older and read about the moon and learned about names for each month’s moon and special foods and colors and such that go along with each one.  And I kept watching her, month after month, always there and always changing, and I loved her even more.

Over the past few years, I’ve participated in a couple of online full moon circles for making wishes and art and celebrating each month, and I’ve loved doing them and wanted to do something of my own.  I came up with the name Muse Moon a couple of years ago, but the timing didn’t feel right for getting started.  I didn’t want to jump into an arena that already had enough performers.  But the circles I was in have slowed down, changed formats, or gone away and opened the way for my kind of moon watching.  2015 feels like the right time for Muse Moon, so here we go.

This is going to be a sort of mini newsletter all about the moon each month.  I’ll put in some of my artwork and maybe photography, some writing (maybe poetry, maybe other) and anything else that comes up for that month.  And prompts and links to guide you in creating your own full moon writing and art.  I’ll get a Facebook group started for us to share what we make, too, because I love seeing what different people do with the same starting point. Creativity goes in so many directions!

So that’s it.  That’s what Muse Moon is all about. Sign up below (it’s free), and I’ll send out the first newsletter on January 5 with all the goodies and a link to the Facebook group. Hope to see you there!

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Muse Moon 05

The Things I Do

December Views

I’ve been kind of quiet these past couple of weeks (although I’ve been blogging a bit on my personal writing website, Mythic Writers).  Things are a little rough right now.  This will be my first Christmas without my mother, and she loved Christmas so much.  Everything is reminding me of her, especially since this week we just moved the big pieces of furniture we brought from her place into our house.

Mostly I’ve been keeping in touch with my creativity through photography, taking pics throughout each week of the ordinary yet beautiful things around me (I’ll be doing a write-up and sharing lots more photos than the three above in my December newsletter–you can sign up for it there in the sidebar).  I’ve also been getting some things ready to introduce to the world in the first few months of 2015:

  • Your Writer’s Path: A Personal Guide to Writing Your Story Your Way-this one will be a monthly coaching for writers to help them tell the stories they want to share with the world
  • Muse Moon–this will be a monthly art journaling and written meditation on the creative aspects of each full moon
  • Flash Journaling–this is a quick and fun art journaling + writing technique that helps you get thoughts down in small amounts of time and space
  • Aristotle’s Plot–this is a story-planning mini class based mostly on Aristotle’s Incline

There are a few more things stirring around, but these are the first ones I’m going to dive into.  A couple of them might have their own mailing lists, so I’ll get the sign-up forms ready for you in the next couple of weeks.

I will probably be quiet again here for the next couple of weeks, although I’m going to try to prepare some rerun posts to share while I’m hibernating.  I will be sharing a write-up of my new planner I’m putting together, though, so if you’re into planners and journals and art and office supplies, stay tuned.  This is going to be so cool!

See you next time!

On My Table: Autumn Fairy Gifts

Things have been kind of busy around here what with the holidays coming up (Thanksgiving is already over!), the end of the year racing toward us, and lots of planning going on for noveling and coaching and classes.  I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like for creative projects outside of novel outlining, but I know keeping my hand in the creative ring is really important for my general outlook on life.  So while I’m busy with a lot of in-my-head stuff right now, I’ve been making a point to do some photography.  Lucky for me, Mother Nature has really been helping out with this fantastic, constantly changing fairy ring right next to where I park my car at work.

Mushrooms 1

Mushrooms 2

Mushrooms 4

Mushrooms 5

Mushrooms 6

What about you?  What do you do when you are busy but want to keep your hand in the creative game?  Leave a note and let us know–we all like to add ideas to our stash.

 

Frazzle Dazzle

Holiday time! Sparkly decorations and parties and food and friends and family time! Frazzled time? Sometimes.  This time of year can leave us feeling overwhelmed and stressed rather than warm and fuzzy.  So what to do about it?

Holiday Mix 2

One of my favorite de-frazzlers is list making.  I know!  I saw you rolling your eyes.  I’m not talking about the productivity lists, the every-single-minute-accounted-for lists, the lists with so many items there’s no way you can do everything in one day, nothing like that.  I’m talking useful, calming lists.  Want to give it a try?

First, decide what the actual purpose is for making this list. Is it to make sure we don’t forget to do certain things that we want to get done? Or is it that we have so many things that we think we need to do that we can’t possibly keep track of all of them without a list? The former is a good reason. The latter might indicate that your lists need some work. Figure out what you really want from a to-do list, what you want it to do for you, and go from there.

For me, I want my lists to be filled with things I really want to do in a day, things that will make my life better or easier, things that will move me forward in my creative dreams, things that I can put on a done list at the end of the day if I want to make one and feel really good about having done. I want my list to be like a friendly guide showing me the way to where I want to be.

How do you turn your lists into friendly guides to the life you want?

Tip #1: Cut down your daily list drastically. Only add on things that move you forward in the important areas of your life or things that you really do want to do today that you are worried might slip through the cracks of a busy day (that’s why my list tells me to make a grocery list—so I don’t end up at the store trying to remember what I need to buy). Don’t put down every little thing you think you want to do or should do today. Just put down the truly important stuff.

Tip #2: Prioritize. Some days you will have things that really do need to be done that day. Put those at the top of your list. After that, prioritize by what pulls you the most, the things that feel like they will really move you in the direction you want to go. Some days you might need to rest and be calm because life has been too hectic lately, so you might put “knitting” or “painting” on your list, and you might want to put it fairly high up because you really want to fit that in. Let what is important to you today, right now, guide you in deciding how to order your list.

Tip #3: Categorize. Decide on the areas of life you want to give time and attention to regularly. Maybe even make a master list of sorts (for me, my master list is writing, coaching, organizing my house into a haven, and improving my health). This shouldn’t be a very long list—probably no more than five things. Make sure that your daily list has something from at least one or two of these areas so you know you’re working on the things that are most important to you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself after you write your list:

  • Does this list make me feel like I’m going to fill my day with important things I want to do?
  • Will completing the tasks on this list make me feel like I’ve done a good day’s work?
  • Does this really need to be on my list?
  • Is there some way to make doing this easier, more pleasant, more fun?
  • What part of my life does this item make better?
  • Will something bad happen if I don’t do this today?
  • Will something bad happen if I throw out this idea and just don’t do it at all?
  • If this really needs to be done but I don’t want to do it, can I pass it on to someone else?

Let your intuition guide you as you add and remove things from your list. Ask yourself how you feel about adding or removing a task. Experiment with leaving off things you thought for sure you needed to have on your daily list. Let your list become a helper instead of your keeper, and give yourself more time to actually go out and do the things you like.

A little end note—NPR offers a list of reasons to make lists: 10 Reasons Why We Love Making Lists. Lots of great reasons and ways to use lists for your best interests.

And another note: this article was originally published in my newsletter, although I’ve edited it for the blog and added a new picture.  Doing a blog post was on my list of things to do for the week, but I’ve been feeling too busy, so I used the “how can I make this easier?” question and came up with something I hope will be useful to all of us.

On My Table: Space

On My Table November 12

I haven’t had much to share in the On My Table category lately with all the life happenings and the recent reconfiguring of what I do. I’ve been feeling the lack of making things, and it reminded me that for a long while I’ve been struggling with a lack of consistent journaling and writing in my life, too.

I started circling around the problem as I have umpteen times in the past couple of years. Years! (At some point I may write about how a teacher and coach falls into a trap she helps others escape, but not right now.)  I threw myself back into the maelstrom of “I need space to set out my notebooks and have them close at hand but my house is too messy and I have no room and I just can’t fix it!”  And then I reminded myself that I am a Kaizen-Muse™ Creativity Coach, for crying out loud!  I know how to deal with this sort of overwhelm–it’s what we do.  We’re overwhelm busters (among other things).  I probably should have talked to one of my fellow coaches about my difficulties–we could have gotten to this conclusion ages ago!  But, at least I’m there now.  I found an inroad into getting where I want to go.

Last night, after reminding myself that all I need to do is take one Small Step, I had an epiphany. I would like to do some of my writing and journaling at the office, but I didn’t have a good place there to set out my journal and pens and things to act as a visual reminder for me.  My journal, pens, notebook, etc. do not take up that much space.  Where could I put them?

I thought about what I needed from such a space.  Accessibility from my chair, including visually because seeing my tools makes me reach for them more often.  Enough space to open a notebook and write in it without having to move anything.  That’s pretty much it.  Did I have anything like that in my office?  Yes.  How about that catch-all corner of my desk?  It was home to random papers (hey, that’s where that recipe got to!), bottles of vitamins, expired coupons, and my fingerless gloves.  That space was plenty big enough for my writing and journaling tools.  And it’s behind me but off to the side so I see that corner in my peripheral vision every time I turn my head slightly.  It’s a perfect spot, and it was right there all along just waiting for me to look for something (some place) small.

You know how long it took me to clear the space?  Three minutes.  No, really.  Three minutes.  The recipes went into a folder of recipes I had already set up, the vitamins went into a drawer, the coupons went into the garbage, and the gloves went to the opposite corner of the desk.  Then I set my tools in the cleared space, and I was done.

Is this the perfect, end-all-be-all solution to my problem?  No.  But it’s a good start.  It’s going to make picking up my journal or notebook and writing a bit much easier.  And you know what happens when you make your work easier and do a little bit of it?  It gets even easier to do more.

The take-aways from all of this?  Your writing, your dream, your work needs space.  You do not have to have the perfect space, just space. You can do one small thing and make just a little space for yourself and your dream and get started right there.

So go!  Make some space for yourself.  Do a little something for your dream.  I’m going to go write in my journal.