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It's that time of year. It feels like every business I see messages from is touting some "make your plans and have your best, most productive year ever starting in January" workshop or article or book. Everyone is pressuring for making resolutions and making plans and following through and...

This always feels like too much pressure to me. This year, it feels even worse. I do not want this. I do not want to feel like I have to have every minute of my day planned and scheduled. I do not want to feel like everything I do needs to be in service to meeting some goals.

I also don't want to have an aimless year where I get not much of anything done, and when I do accomplish something it seems mostly accidental.

I want something in between (okay, maybe leaning more toward the rambling and incidental to be honest).

I made something in between. It's called New Year's Ease*. It's a five-day workshop running from December 26 - 30. It's going to help with making plans and goals so you have something to aim for, but it's also going to help with dreaming and with finding the ways to work toward goals while having ease and relaxation and time for things you didn't even think about doing but really want to that come up during the year.

I believe that the worth of our lives is not measured in productivity and exhaustion. It's not measured in how much we've accomplished or how much money we've earned. You do not have to schedule every minute of your day, put your nose to the grindstone, be constantly on task to reach goals and be satisfied with your life and what you're doing.

I believe it is the aim of our lives to find the things that make us feel good and proud of ourselves but also like we have time and space to breathe and enjoy the world around us and the life we have. I want to work on building that kind of life. I hope you'll join me in December.

*Registration opens November 30. Price: $35

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Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

We're in Week Two of NaNoWriMo, and I'm way behind. I'll probably catch up, but I might not. I might fail. And that's okay.

I'm seeing a lot of my fellow WriMos in the same boat and lamenting their possible fate and being really down on themselves, though, so I wanted to talk about failing. Don't get hung up on it. Failing is not the worst thing that can happen.

Sometimes failing can be a good thing. How?

  • Failing can show you things that don't work so you can start over and avoid them
  • Failing can show you things you never thought of so new ideas and new projects might spring up
  • Failing can show you that you are doing something, you are out there moving ahead, you are trying (and yes, there is such a thing as trying; Yoda was wrong, and you can see my thoughts on that here)
  • Failing can remind you that there are still things to learn and discover out there and rekindle your enthusiasm

Failing isn't usually fun (unless it's cake experiments--that can be a lot of fun). But it's not a terrible thing to avoid. If you never fail, you might be playing it safe, and that's probably going to keep you from getting where you want to go. So try things out, reach a little, let yourself fail, and remember it's all part of the process, not the end of things. Failing is just another step. You took that step, you fell down. Now, get up and try again.

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Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Do you have a dream so big you don't even spend much time thinking about it? A dream you brush off as not a real goal or desire, just a passing fancy? Because it's so big it seems like there's no way it's happening?

I do.

I want to be a published author. I've been writing for decades, and before that I was a storyteller, making up tales in the lunch line to amuse myself and my friends. Since high school, teachers and workshop leaders and fellow writers have been telling me I'm a good writer and that I should submit some of my work. I still haven't done it. There are a lot of reasons--fear that I'll never get published even if I try; overwhelm at the idea of all the things you have to do to submit stories and keep track of where you've submitted, etc.; the constant, compelling pull of new stories and projects. But mostly I think it's been the fear that I can't do it or it won't be what I thought--all of that. I even convinced myself for a few years that I didn't want to be published, that I just wanted to write stories to enjoy them, and that was enough. It sounded good, and I even believed it.

So how do you know you have a secret from yourself? It usually surfaces frequently but in a quiet way. You make something and think "I could sell this," and then you brush it aside and move on to other things. People around you comment on how good your work it, what a talent you have, that you could sell this/show this/be a professional, and you thank them and turn your attention to other things and don't think of it again. But this kind of thing happens a lot, and you spend a little time thinking about it sometimes. You give the idea a little bit of attention, but then you have a lot of what seem like really good reasons to not do it, and you go back to not dreaming.

What do you do if you realize you've been keeping a secret dream from yourself? Maybe nothing (you weren't expecting that, were you?). Try to pay attention to when the idea crops up and how you feel about it. Spend some time just observing the idea and how you feel about it.

If you decide you want to go for it, go! But start small. (You know I love small steps!) You've probably had this dream for awhile. You don't need to make it happen right this very minute. Do one small thing toward it. Do your best not to think of the other steps that need to happen. One at a time, and give yourself as much time as you need. This is your dream, it deserves time, and you deserve to enjoy it, not stress out about it!

Here's the breakdown I've made for myself so far. Hopefully these steps will help you with your dreams, too:

  • Figure out if you have a dream you're not acknowledging or pursuing
  • Decide if you want to follow this dream
  • Look for a first small step to take (make it smaller than you think is small enough!)
  • When you've taken a small step, celebrate it
  • Choose another small step and take that one
  • Take your time and enjoy the journey!

I hope your dreams are feeling one step closer now. Drop me a note here or on social media and tell me about your dreams and your small steps, and we'll celebrate together.

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Photo by Social.Cut on Unsplash

I plan my own birthday celebration every year. That way, I know I'll be doing something I enjoy. I'll have fun and have good memories to look back on. Usually it involves going somewhere with my partner and a couple of my close friends. We've gone to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, on a scenic train ride at the coast, to the Oregon Garden... All sorts of fun and memorable adventures, always with a meal at someplace we haven't tried, and usually involving at least a little bit of a road trip.

This year, of course, things are a little different. I'm doing a small adventure on Saturday--just the two of us going to the Oregon Zoo then getting carry-out Bavarian food for dinner and a movie at home.

To make up for the more low key birthday celebration, I decided to have three days of celebrations. Today was getting art supplies (I actually went in a store! My favorite little embroidery shop, where they limit customers and require masks and have you use hand sanitizer, so about as safe as you can get outside your house). And there will be carry-out dinner (Hawaiian!) and a movie tonight. And tomorrow night, too. And then Saturday's adventure.

So here's what I'm feeding my Muse with for my birthday weekend:

Now I'm going to go make a swatch page with all of my fun new toys and finish the cute little cross stitch on paper kit I'm working on so I can jump into one of these new ones. I hope you're having fun and find what appeals to your Muse out there. And remember, you never have to wait for someone else to invite you to the fun. Go out and make your own adventures! Have fun!

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First tomatoes from the garden in our new house (2015).

I love working in timed bursts. Working with a timer focuses me and keeps me going. I also love knowing I have a finite amount of time until I'm finished (even if the whole project isn't finished). I think working in timed bursts is a really effective way to get things done even if, or maybe especially if, (like me) you're highly distractible and unfocused.

I first started using a timer to do creative work when I read about it in Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. She recommends different amounts of time (or alternately writing for a certain number of pages) depending on circumstances, and this has worked amazingly well for me ever since I started doing it way back in the late 80s.

At some point, though, I heard about The Pomodoro Technique, and I was pulled in by the promise of productivity and focus. It was so simple, too. Get a timer. Pick a task. Work for 25 minutes then take a break. Every four sessions, take a longer break. I was going to do all the things!

Turns out it didn't quite work that way for me. For some tasks (okay, a lot of tasks), 25 minutes was too long for me. I couldn't hold my focus for that long. I couldn't maintain momentum for that long. Most of the time I couldn't even do one Pomodoro let alone get to that longer break after four of them.

I still liked the idea of it, though, so I experimented. I tried out different intervals. I even tried out some longer ones (every once in a while I can do a 30 minute writing sprint if I've warmed up with some shorter sprints). I tried really short ones (even two minutes--you can do a lot in two minutes!). I found that my best interval is 10 minutes with a 3-5 minute break in between (and a longer break after a few sessions).

How can you use a timer to get more stuff done? Experiment!

Things to try or to keep in mind:

  • Have a specific task in mind before you start (even if you're doing writing sprints, having at least a vague idea of what you're working on helps you focus).
  • Make sure you have everything set up (including your timer) before you start.
  • Try a variety of time intervals (including changing the length of breaks).
  • Try working with music, in silence, with ambient sounds (there are apps for that!), and in various locations to see if any of them make it easier to work.
  • Unless you absolutely hate working in a particular length of time you try, give each interval a few tries before deciding if it works for you or not.
  • Do not skip breaks! (The one exception is if you're really on a roll with a creative project and you just want to keep writing, painting, sculpting, whatever because you're in a good spot and know where you're going next. Give yourself permission to follow the Muse.)
  • Have a plan for what you'll do for your breaks. Try playing with your dog or cat, checking in on the other people in your house if you don't live alone, refilling your water bottle, checking social media (but only if you're sure you can stop after the allotted break time), anything that lets you relax a little and reset.
  • When it's your longer break, get up and do something. Get yourself a reward (cup of tea or coffee, take a dance or stretch break, do something that gets you up and away from your work spot.

That's it. Get a timer (if you have a smartphone or tablet you already have one) and see what you can do!

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Sometimes it's hard to get our creativity in gear. We get busy or stuck or overwhelmed, and we want to do creative things, but we just can't get to it. Right now, I think that's happening to most of us quite a lot. There's a lot for our creativity to stumble on right now.

At the same time, doing creative work is so good for our hearts! It can be soothing, energizing, revitalizing. It can give us structure when everything feels chaotic. So being creative right now is important work (see my post "Yes, Now Is Art Time" for more on that).

Knowing our creative work is important in so many ways isn't always enough to get us going, though. If you need a bit of a nudge to get some creative work, try one of these:

  • Pick something you like to do (or something new you'd like to try) and find a challenge for it (there are so many 30 day challenges out there!). The light pressure of a challenge and the support of a community can help things get moving.
  • Arrange an exchange with artist friends--mail art, an art journal you pass back and forth, a story exchange for feedback.
  • Take a class--choose something in an area you already love to work in or try out something you're interested in.
  • Teach a class--you can deepen your own practices and help others get their own creative vibes flowing
  • Do timed practices--set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and dive in (if you're really feeling stuck, see what you can do with 2 minutes--I bet you'll be surprised!)

If you're still not sure what you want to be working on, check out my post "Dipping Into Creative Work" for more ideas of ways to give your creativity some time and attention.

I hope things in your corner of the world are going as well as they can, and I hope your creativity and these ideas for how to keep engaging with it help make things just a little brighter. Have a good weekend, everyone!

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The past few weeks, I've been all about cutting and tearing paper and gluing it down. Here's one piece in progress (above). And here's one I finished about two weeks ago:

Both of these came from mini classes with Jennifer Chamberlin of The Maker Beehive. She does really fun collage pieces, very vintage looking, and very relaxing. Her classes are great for beginners but still fun for people who've been doing collage and mixed media for a while.

I have one more piece from her classes I'm planning to make--pumpkins! Because it's September, and that means fall and Halloween and pumpkins! The cutting and tearing and gluing is what my Muse is all about right now.

What about you? What's appealing to your Muse?

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What it is:

At its heart, writing practice (also called freewriting), is writing for a length of time without stopping or censoring yourself. It’s most famously taught by Natalie Goldberg (and Julia Cameron in her morning pages practice), but it’s used in writing classes, programs, and workshops everywhere. It’s a way to strengthen your writing skills, but it’s also a way to clear your mind, dig deep into yourself and find out what you think about things, and a way to stir your creativity.

How you do it:

You pick a goal for your writing session--an amount of time, number of pages, or number of words--and you keep writing until you hit that goal. Don’t stop--keep the pen moving across the page or your hands moving on the keyboard. If you get stuck, write “I don’t know what to write” over and over until the words get moving again (you can also rewrite your prompt if you’re using one or rewrite your last phrase or sentence--anything that keeps the words coming).

Where to write:

Your preference. A good old fashioned notebook or notepad is great and gives a different experience than writing on a computer. If you’re looking for something new to try check out 750Words.com or Penzu.com. You get one free journal with a basic Penzu account, and I really like it for ease of searching if you want to go back to any entries. Google Docs is also a really nice option, but you do have to remember to organize it into a folder or things get really hard to find later.

Physically, find someplace comfortable where you won’t be interrupted during your writing session. If you can, try out different locations. Write inside your home, out in the yard, in a coffee shop, in a park, at the beach.

When to write:

Pick a time that works for you. It might be different every day. It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning a la morning pages unless that really works for you. When you can, though, decide ahead of time when you will do your writing each day--write it down or put it in your calendar if you like--so that you have a solid plan for writing instead of just a wish for writing.

Ways to use writing practice:

Writing practice is complete as it is. It’s a way to play and practice with words and language. It’s a way to capture your thoughts, capture descriptions of the world around you, visit moments from your past. If you want a little more, you can use lines from an entry as a prompt for more writing practice. You can use your writing practice session to explore characters or settings or other aspects of fiction stories you’re working on.

And of course, if you have other ideas about what you want to write or any of this, go with what is right for you! You know you best--take your own advice.

If you'd like to do some writing in community, I'm hosting a free 30 day writing practice group in September. Come write with us! MuseCraft September 2020 Writing Practice.

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In my last post, I talked about how giving attention to our creative work and making time for art is really important right now.

It's also really hard right now. These are stressful, anxious times, and those feelings can make being creative feel really hard. And yet if we aren't getting to our creative work, that also makes us feel anxious, restless, not quite right. So what do you do when you want to do creative work but you can't seem to make it happen?

Find a way to just dip your toes into creativity. Find things that are easy, don't take too much time, are soothing if possible, fun if possible, engaging without needing laser focus. What you do isn't the important part; the important part is touching base with your creative life to keep connected.

My favorite thing to do when I want to do my art but can't settle into it is creative busy work. It's stuff that needs to get done for your creative work, but it doesn't usually require quite as much time, energy, or brain power. Things like organizing, prepping, tidying, planning, things that let you get your hands on your creative work but in a lighter and easier way than fully immersing yourself.

Some creative busy work projects:

  • Wind skeins of yarn into balls for your next knitting or crocheting project (or skeins of floss for embroidery)
  • Gather paints and sorting or organizing them for easier use on your next project
  • Clip words and pictures out of magazines for your next collage, junk journal, or art journal project
  • Put down layers of paint in your art journal for backgrounds
  • Pull gel prints for future use as backgrounds or in collages, etc.
  • Practice brush lettering or other hand lettering
  • Doodle
  • Make a color swatch (so many fun ideas for color swatches at Daisy Yellow--check out the link!) with your favorite markers, paints, colored pencils, etc.
  • Add to or organize inspirational Pinterest boards
  • Page through magazines about your art or ones that inspire you in some way

One last suggestion--keep a list of creative busy work. Put it in the front of your journal or planner or somewhere you can look at it easily. Sometimes when you're restless and want to do something, trying to remember the ideas you had about what to do gets hard. Make it easier for yourself! Easy is good.

I hope this has helped a little if you've been feeling stuck or unfocused lately. And if you have other things you like to do to help ease yourself out of a creative slump, I'd love to hear about them! Drop a note in the comments, or find me on social media.

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My mini book from Seth Apter's class

I was just getting back to blogging in the spring. And then on top of the pandemic, George Floyd was murdered right in public by a police officer, and the crumbling world caved in. I couldn’t bring myself to write about anything that wasn’t Black Lives Matter or mask wearing. Nothing else seemed important. I spent a lot of time (still do, just not exclusively) on social media sharing things to try to help, to try to spread the word about what was happening and maybe ways to make changes.

Talking, sharing, protesting, writing letters--it's important work we have to keep doing. But I was sinking in on myself more and more every day, and I didn't know what to do. And then a class popped up-- Seth Apter’s Mini Book Madness. It was so inexpensive, and the books were delightful, and it was easily accessible. I signed up. I started my book in class and spent days finishing it. I was so in love I bought supplies to make more books (which hasn’t happened yet, but I have my stuff, and it will). I felt a little more like me. I felt a little calmer, a little more focused, a little less constantly enraged.

Right now doing our art, making things, creating may seem pointless. Worse, it may feel selfish.

Right now, our art is necessary.

Stopping and later recovering from this pandemic is a long-haul thing. Continuing the fight against police violence and racial injustice and inequity is a long-haul thing. That means that we have to figure out how to do all the work on these things at the same time as we are having lives. And that means taking care of ourselves and doing the things that buoy us up and help us keep going, that help us keep hope and help us bring light to ourselves and others.

There have been articles and posts about this already. I’m not saying anything new. But I feel like my blog is something that people read in quieter times, so maybe the words will sink in a little easier. Or the ideas might sink in from repetition. In any case, I just wanted to say it out loud.

Living our lives, making our art, doing our creative work--it’s important. We have to have a full and thriving world to move back into once we fix these crises. We can’t build that world or keep it going if we burn ourselves out. 

Next time I’ll talk about some small ways to get back to your art if it’s a struggle. For now, just remember that you can do it for just 5 minutes, you can do it badly, you can just spend time sorting supplies. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Now, go make something!

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