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Flash Nano 2022 complete!

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Writing may be the hardest thing you do because it requires commitment. Commitment requires perseverance.

Amy Wallen

The absolute best part of writing during Flash Nano this past month has been getting through it. Making a commitment to any type of project means balancing expectations, accepting that not everything will go smoothly, and remembering that perfection really is a ridiculous concept. But more important is the reality that when you actually follow through, it feels like a success.

30 flash fiction stories in 30 days. It is so satisfying to open the folder in my Google Drive and see the list of story titles for every day of the month of November.

A word count just under 25,000.

Several of those pieces generate a tiny bit of excitement thinking about what revision, and intentional thought might bring their way.

Each prompt sent to my mailbox every morning met my immediate dopamine infused needs. Except for the ones that didn’t make any sense or stimulate that creative urge because they were odd, unusual, or outside of my comfort zone. Letting those ones, in particular, rattle around in the cerebral realm until inspiration of some sort led me to the computer where a story was hatched in spite of my resistance.

Having the goal, the desire to reach it, and the sheer challenge of creating and writing 30 pieces of flash fiction, coalesced into an achievement of sorts. And a bit of a pleasant surprise at how gratifying this feels. Amazed that I only had two days where I literally had to force myself to write. And that didn’t happen until this past weekend. When I felt tired and uninspired. But I pushed through anyways and one of those reluctant stories is likely worth more effort, editing, and energy. Might be a diamond in the rough.

I always find I need to assess and evaluate whether something like this was worth it.

Without a doubt, it was and I will be back again next year!

Happy writing!

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Benefits of November creative writing

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Fundamentally, I want to value the act of noticing and being curious outside of simply being a writer. It is what makes us feel alive, lucid, and present as human beings. Whether you write about it or not, it’s still wonderful that you stopped to look at something – that it stirred up memories, lit up your daydreams.

Raoul Fernandes

The month of November for writers in the world seems a bit like marathon runners preparing for a race after a bit of a hiatus. If you run full out every day, when it comes time for the big race, you may not have enough energy left to get through it. And you will probably experience a cornucopia of injuries, and other physical maladies. So a runner must learn about pacing, about proper rest, nutrition, and the other fine points of marathon race preparation.

Writers also have to learn the mechanics of a sustainable writing practice. For those writing every day with the hopes of achieving a first draft of “something” during the one month period known as NaNoWriMo, those meta cognitive aspects where learning about the how one does such a thing is every bit as important as what one produces. There are hills and valleys to be endured but there is a palpable energy to this process that excites, that ignites some part of our creative selves.

It is this sense of wonder at being alive and being able to fully look at some aspect of life and write about it, that keeps a writer going. It is Day 23 – the month now more than two thirds over and it is worth noticing the impact this has had. Where all the places in your life are lifted a little or feel somewhat different. Have you noticed creativity seeping into new areas of your life as a part of this process. Or are you feeling wrung out but oddly alert at the same time which is itself a curious state.

But best of all, what keeps the writing flowing, is the fact that we are all doing this together. The community of writers around the world provides a sense of direction, or connection that is the most unique part of this month. Whatever I am able to accomplish this month is equal only to the affirmation of identifying myself to this collective where I feel known in some way as a writer.

Happy writing!!

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Taking time for goal reflection

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If you think towards your goal, your energies – and other people’s energies too – will be directed towards it. Every decision you make will contribute towards it. Even if you don’t achieve your ultimate goal, you’ll be further ahead than if you didn’t have the goal in the first place.

Elise Valmorbida

In our work lives, most of us spend at least one time per year to assess goals, evaluate progress, and even determine new ones. This evaluation process is for the most part widely accepted and could be considered simply par for the course. There are a multitude of reasons why we want to continue to grow and develop our knowledge and skills in the work arena.

But other areas of our lives often come up short in the goal setting and evaluation process. It’s like if we don’t have a “boss” to guide the process, it might not happen.

If we don’t focus on our passions, our creative interests in the same manner, they seem to languish and stall. Self-defeating expectations about what our inner artist should be doing are often unrealistic. This often provokes self-criticism leading us to abandon things long before we should.

When we begin something new, such as creative writing, making art, taking photographs etc., we have tons of energy and that beginner’s state of being is almost blissful.

But to continue on with any creative activity, we need to take stock of what we don’t know and find ways to fill those learning gaps. Just like we would do at work. So instead of letting things go prematurely or entering a state of stagnation, it becomes critical that we need to spend some time in goal reflection.

Figuring out what and where we need to go next and accepting that there may be a lot of gaps in our knowledge and skills sets can be uncomfortable. And that is totally fine. In fact, most new learning occurs sequentially where we must develop a skill which we can then build on in order to keep moving forward.

While on one level intuitively, we may know this, it may be difficult to accept that in order to grow our art practice, there is a continual learning curve that requires serious effort. And goal setting may be an important vehicle to take us where we want to go. So just like that yearly evaluation process you do at work, try working through a similar review with yourself to gain a better understanding how you can best grow as a writer, as an artist.

Reflecting on this is also part of the work. And just like in the world of work, this may be easier said than done.

Happy creating!!

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Reflections on writing process

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A writer is someone who writes. You have done it; you have expressed yourself on paper. Getting started is almost always picking up an old dream, an old desire. Getting started is usually getting started again.

Pat Schneider

I have discovered there is no easy way to begin writing. You simply have to sit down and do it. For the past several years, I have been keenly interested in how other writers work. How do they ensure their creativity flows best? Do they choose a particular time of the day to unleash their muse? Or is it the medium they use. A computer, writing longhand, or through dictation. Do they choose to use a writer’s journal to capture random bits of imaginative flotsam throughout the day?

Perhaps they use a specific type of app, or a special pen. Leather bound journals, plain paper, or lined notepads? The quest to understand what tools other writers use often mirrors the desire we possess to tap into the writer’s path easily, instantly, or perhaps through a magical manifestation.

But we all have rhythms that influence our ability to work, to write, to rest, and to reflect that we must discover for ourselves. There is no trick to the writing life and what works for other writers may be helpful but won’t transform us. Our way into the words we must bring forth and express seems to require both trial and error and meditative reflection on what works.

Learning to shed fears, worry about judgment from others, self-doubts are as important as routines, writing tools and process. Finding your way into writing what you need to often requires a simple beginning. Pen to paper, fingers on the keyboard, and just start letting the words flow as they need.

And understanding that every day you return to write, requires that you have to get started all over again.

And that’s just fine.

Happy writing!

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It’s time for Flash Nano!!

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Creating with words is our continuing passion. We dream stories; we make up stories, poems, songs, and tell them to ourselves. All alone, we write. We also write with others.

Pat Schneider

Yesterday morning was the first day of Nancy Stohlman’s Flash Nano 2022. I had set the alarm on my phone for an hour earlier than I typically open my eyes. Setting the alarm was a deliberate action that seemed important in my plan to write through the month of November and to celebrate every moment of that.

I’d like to be able to say that as soon as the alarm went off that I bounced up out of bed, heading straight over to my computer. After making coffee, of course. But that would be fiction. When that alarm first went off, I couldn’t remember why I had set it and groggily hit snooze.

When it went off the second time, I literally dragged myself out of bed. After a cup of coffee, I decided to check my emails to see what Nancy had sent as the first prompt for Flash Nano. With a small shiver of anticipation, I experienced a hit of dopamine as I read her message and thought about what the first flash fiction of this month could be about.

The best idea seemed that I should take a walk first to let the prompt roll around in my head and just as I was ready to leave the house an idea rushed into my head. It felt too important to ignore.

I thought I would just open a word document and write some jot notes for the story that beginning to take shape inside my writing mind. But instead I sat down and furiously wrote a first draft of over 650 words that just might be worthy of a sharper pencil. An editing process that I will gladly go through when Flash Nano is over.

I won’t question what this month means as a writer who loves flash fiction. Writing small stories by myself but as part of a much larger whole makes it special in ways that are difficult to define. I have been thinking about linking some of the stories this month together or maybe not. The prompts that come to my mailbox each morning sometimes seem to take on a life of their own.

And that’s the best part of all of this. Paying attention to the process of creativity as it unfolds over the upcoming month. Knowing that perfection has no role to play over the next 30 days because it’s all about putting words on paper. That’s all I can expect from myself. Hearing from other people who are also accompanying me on this journey. Knowing that other writers across the globe are participating in some type of creative adventure for the entire month of November.

At the beginning it is pure, unadulterated fun. But who knows what day 22 or day 27, will bring. Lethargy, resistance, or boredom? Or not.

And that is part of the magic in this process. Going through the ups and down of creativity, not knowing what the road map is or where you might be at the end of it all. But one thing is certain, you will not be in the exact same place as you have started. You will have written words that you might share with the world or that will never see the light of day. You will be able to face your reflection in the mirror and whisper that you are indeed, a writer.

Whether you are trying to write a novel in 30 days, or 30 flash fiction stories, or have other defined writing goals that you will attempt to meet in the course of the month of November – best wishes to all.

Happy writing!!

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Which “witch” is which?

Photo by L. Meyer

Sometimes making the world a better place just involves creating space for the people who are already in it.

Jodi Picoult

With Halloween just around the corner, a quick walk through my neighbourhood reveals many fabulous decorations, signifying an intense interest in this special celebration. It is always amazing to discover what costumes the children in my community have created before they venture out trick or treating. When they arrive on my doorstep, it is fun to ask them about their costumes and to muse about the ones that stand out either through detail or wild imagination.

Parents can be spotted on the sidewalk waiting with pride and anticipation while their children gather the spoils of the evening. And clearly relish this time to celebrate creativity, connections with others, and the fun spookiness of the evening.

The celebration of Halloween comes from a long history of various cultural traditions and has evolved over time into the present day exercise. The tradition where now each young person attempts to be as individual as possible and where diversity of costume design is honoured and celebrated.

And where you can run up and down the streets of your neighbourhood asking for and receiving treats!

But it’s worth spending a moment to consider how we approach representations of diversity the other 364 days of the year?

When you consider how difficult it is for children to stand apart from one another in any way, the Halloween exception could either be seen as an oddity or as a guideline to follow all year long. Why should it become so difficult to stand out and simply celebrate who you are? We pay a lot of lip service to reconciliation, respect for all aspects of diversity yet it just takes a quick moment of reflection to admit that we are not very far along that path.

What would a world look like where everyone could experience a sense of belonging regardless of any aspect of being or feeling different from others? Just imagine a world where all forms of diversity would be celebrated every day of the year, not just on Halloween. That would be a treat!

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!!

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Curiosity did not kill the cat!

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The benefits of curiosity go far beyond the page – when we ask questions, we become engaged in exploration, bright with knowledge, and connected to ourselves, each other, and the world/universe/beyond.

Rita Zoey Chin

Have you ever been surprised by the results of a writing prompt or suggestion? Asking What if or Why questions seems to be a standard boiler plate type of question that you find in many writing craft articles or blogs. But spending a week trying to do this in all facets of your life, seemed like a worthy experiment that potentially could bring interesting results.

Curiously enough, I had written and underlined this idea in my journal about ten months ago. That must mean something, right? So I decided the time is now. With the best intention mind possible, I tried to direct my focus on becoming curious about everything and everyone around me. For an entire week.

But I wanted to move beyond spending an inordinate amount of time on Google. So I had to consider how to respectfully ask questions of others without being rude or coming off as just plain nosy. The best place to begin seemed to be to shine my focus on things rather than people.

Connecting with others to learn more about seemingly innocuous aspects of life, paved the way to fully embrace this curiosity exercise.

Not only did I discover interesting facts about my physical surroundings but along the way I was starting to see how easy it is to slip into a frame of mind where judgement of others plays a leading role. We make assumptions about many things in our daily lives without a solid understanding of why or accurate knowledge about some of our beliefs.

So I tried asking more why and what types of questions with friends and family members and came away having learned much more about the inner lives of those I care about. I am left wondering if some of the judgments I often end up making about others are some type of bizarre artifact from the pandemic. So many people seem to stew in a pot of resentment and judgment these days.

Learning how others are experiencing the world helps generate empathy. And in addition to skill building and creating a writer’s mindset, curiosity about others leads to a place of caring and concern.

Imagine what our world might be like if everyone was just a little more curious about those around them!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Don’t let excuses undermine commitments…

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There are only two options: Make progress or makes excuses

Anonymous

September started with a renewed sense of commitment. To rejoining the world, making social connections and activities a priority, coupled with a focus on self care. Not just self soothing moments but an emphasis to be placed on good sleep, nutrition, exercise, and most definitely on stress reduction.

On the Canadian prairies, we are all too familiar with wind. When weather systems come in or when they leave, wind is always the usher of change. But not calm, gentle, types of wind. No we regularly experience harsh, blustery, gale force type winds that race across the flat, prairie landscape kicking up dust, leaves, and occasionally, tumbleweeds.

So as I glanced outside this morning before my yoga class, I watched strong wind blow most of the fall leaves that had landed on my lawn onto the street. And in all likelihood they would be whipped further along landing on the lawns of my neighbours. I needed to travel to my class on foot as our car was in the shop. Watching small branches being whipped off of trees, I thought it best to check the weather forecast.

The winds were predicted to only get stronger during the course of the day. It seemed easiest in that moment to decide it was likely not a good idea to attend the class. After all it was just too windy to try and walk to the centre where the class was being held. Heading north into a northwest wind seemed nonsensical to me. It would probably be fine on the way home but that was only one way. Right?

But then I thought about missing the class. There was no way to make it up later in the week. And I had indeed made a firm commitment to myself to take this class face to face rather than on Zoom. So an internal argument in my mind left me undecided as to what to do. Mentally running through a pros and cons checklist, it was clear to me that the benefits would definitely outweigh a blustery walk in the wicked prairie wind.

Further reflection left me thinking about how easy it is to talk yourself out of doing something rather than talking yourself into it. Perseverance seemed the answer. So I bundled up, braved the wind which was stronger than I had envisioned. The urge to turn around and go home was overwhelming. But once I got half way there, it seemed ridiculous not to just carry on. So I got there in one piece, albeit with dust in one of my eyes.

Accompanied by feeling grateful that I was there, seeing people I enjoy being with, ready for a class that makes me feel better every time I go.

It occurs to me that taking the easy way out of something is less satisfying than forging ahead and enduring a bit of discomfort along the way. In fact, it made the whole thing much better knowing that the choice was the right one. The act of challenging yourself to do something that has a degree of difficulty does provide a sense of accomplishment even though in the larger scheme of things it probably was not a big deal.

But the value of the exercise by being true to the commitments you make to yourself was immeasurable.

Stay healthy and safe!!

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Navigating liminal spaces

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Choose courage over comfort by vitally engaging with new opportunities to learn and grow, rather than passively resigning yourself to your circumstances.

Susan David

Liminal spaces are often uncomfortable places to be. You have neither moved forward nor will you be staying where you have been. So it can resemble walking a tightrope or being lost in a cavern. Transitions and changes of any type often present this type of liminal challenge.

This week presented one such struggle. I need to take a course to maintain a teaching certification but seemed to be having some reservation about returning to working with people face to face in a classroom format. The annoying voices locked in a fierce debate in my head had me up and down like children on a see saw.

Questions on this teeter totter ranged from, Should I bother doing this? to Yes, of course, this was something you used to be energized by. What about my writing goals? Would this knock me off course? Sitting down, writing through this process taught me that I had once enjoyed the process, the people, and sense of purpose. And that I could certainly do more than one thing.

But fear of having been away from this work for too long coupled with feelings about being concerned about how to step back into the path I had been on before Covid knocked the world off course kept me fretting. Rumination followed by more ruminations.

Reframe. Recognize resistance for what it is. Breathe. It is truly amazing how mind over matter really matters. This tendency to overthink things has only intensified during the past two years. So I just challenged myself to drop all preconceived notions and took the recertification course.

And was pleasantly surprised at how easily I re-engaged with the process and the people. And not long after the course, I was struck with a story ideas and cracked off a first draft of a flash fiction. Hah!

Liminal spaces are like way stations. The kind of thing that won’t last forever especially when you think it will. Choosing courage to embrace a new opportunity became the gentle push that nudged me along the path I need to be on.

Stay happy and safe!!

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Add wander and wonder, then mix

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The key to a wonderful life is to never stop wandering into wonder.

Suzy Kassem

My greatest pet peeve during the pandemic was the loss of things to look forward to. Isolation, fear, and constant worry negate hope, feelings of optimism and the sense of wonder about our world.

Planning for the future, with little faith that you can predict meeting the goals you aspire to, began to seem futile.

Diminished social connections added to the sense that life’s adventures were being held in abeyance. So many aspects of life had been placed on hold. Until what? Til things become safe again?

Once I wrapped my head around the reality that managing the risks we are all exposed to is simply a pathway we are likely on forever, I have been ramping up my life planning efforts. Looking forward to something has always been a touchstone for me. My desire to wander can still keep me grounded. No one ever said I had to travel the world to do that.

Finding a sense of wonder about what is around me is fast becoming a routine that wakes me up. Getting up extra early to enjoy the sunrise. Visiting a friend who has a new puppy. Those wiggly creatures place newfound meaning on the word energy. Talking to my son and his new bride, listening to that afterglow of post wedding happiness. Going out for coffee with friends. And lunch, too!

Balancing writing classes on Zoom with in person writing group dates. Resuming book club, in person, distanced, maybe masking? Doesn’t matter, it’s the connections with others that matters.

Spending time, indoors and outdoors, with friends who also monitor their health and manage the risks of the ever present virus. Masking around large crowds of people indoors and outdoors, if it feels necessary. Regardless of what seems to be needed, the decision made to stop isolating, being afraid, and to continue to embrace and look forward to the unexpected and amazing things that happen in life.

That is all now a part of the life plan. It was time to press the pause button and get back to the realization that anything is possible. May we all spend time wandering and enjoying the wonders of our world!

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Fall – Time for a fresh start

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Today expect something good to happen to you no matter what occurred yesterday. Realize the past no longer holds you captive. It can only continue to hurt you if you hold on to it. Let the past go. A simply abundant world awaits.

Sarah Breathnach

With fall peeking around the corner, and closing the chapter on a difficult year, it seems right to dust off my normally held sense of optimism and move forward. Without worry about personal stressors, annoying politicians, devastating traumatic events or the death of a long standing monarch. And most certainly without amping up undue anxiety about whether Covid is here to stay or not. It is. Full stop.

It means dusting off goals that got put on the shelf in March of 2020. And going back to the drawing board where I am free to play with all of the ideas I have rolling around in my mind about what I would like to do next in my life.

There is freedom in that. In actually being able to sit back, spend time in reflection, writing and journaling about any and all ideas when they pop into my head. Without fear, or worry that something will interrupt, interfere, or blow up my life plans.

And really when you consider our life’s journey, it is indeed, full of detours, some of our own making and others beyond our control. And that is okay.

What seems most important is the recognition that you have passions that reside inside of you meant to be pursued. At times, they are apparent and at others, they are elusive. It’s just fine to search for that thing that really resonates, that whispers in a kind and gentle voice to try on. It’s comforting to know that you can dabble until you find what feels right.

Knowing that we can pick some things up where they were left off, bid farewell to those that we won’t be able to continue on with, and choose more intentionality with what we do in our lives regardless of the external world around us.

The fall season, resplendent with changing colours, temperatures, clothing choices, and activities seems a perfect time to reflect, consider new goals, and then carry on.

Enjoy what today will bring!

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A writer’s hiatus

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Hiatus: A temporary gap, pause, break or absence can be called a hiatus. Even things that go on for a long time take a break once in awhile. – Google.com

Going to take a writer’s hiatus – Back on September 14, 2022 – Thank you for reading my words – that is appreciated!!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Respectful Summer Get Togethers

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Messages that feel like commands – even good advice coming from a friend- aren’t always received well. If you feel like you’re being pushed into a corner, you’re more likely to push back.

Elena Renken

Most stories being told around the world right now seem to share several common distressing themes. Inflation and what is driving it. The war in Ukraine. The Pope’s apology to Canadian residential school survivors. Heat waves creating unbearable conditions in parts of the world that normally don’t have them. Fires, droughts, floods all predictable as a result of our continued environmental destruction.

And then the predictable debates about who, what, and how we should address climate action.

Affordable housing crisis, food insecurity, moving into a recession, extraordinary gas prices, and of course the ever present supply chain issues. Gun violence. School shootings. Grocery store shootings. Mall shootings. Continued anger about Covid vaccine mandates and the odd, lingering protest about public health guidelines. Populist political bullying, dismantling women’s right to choose, coupled with a full on attack on “woke” culture.

And you’ll never guess who’s back delivering mayhem and ridiculous soundbites cause he got raided by the FBI?

The stories we are telling each other range from angry conflict that sometimes disintegrates into outright chaos all the way to a senseless war across the ocean. This polarizing rhetoric gains traction as people are not feeling heard and from dangerous people who then take license to impose their will through bullying behaviour or use of force.

When did we stop listening to each other. Agreeing to disagree. Respecting democratic institutions that we have taken pride in building. Collectively. Collaboratively. It seems so far away from the world I thought I knew. Disenfranchised people whose demands across social media are no longer about civil society but about individuals rights and freedoms.

What does that actually mean? When I hear the word freedom right now, I know my personal definition can’t be similar to fellow Canadians who decided to disrupt and destroy the narrative most familiar to me. Horns blaring because Freedom. My freedom trumps yours.

How do I listen to their stories and really hear them?

Would anything make it easier for them to hear my stories?

All stories matter and have the potential to shape attitudes that colour our views on relationships, politics, and our society. But they have little meaning when we stop listening to one another. And when we also stop caring about the importance of the stories that each of us needs to tell.

It seems bizarre that at a time when we need to come together to address so many challenges that we keep moving far apart.

But there are glimmers of hope. Right?

I can’t help but remain hopeful that the celebrations we have this summer have mostly remained respectful of the stories that each one of us carries in our hearts. No matter how different it seems from our value base and moral codes.

We have a long ways to go but if we all learn to listen a little more, we just might make the upcoming fall and winter a different story than the one told last year.

Stay happy and safe this summer!

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Rainbows – a new beginning?

Photo L. Meyer

Rainbows bring the promise that the troubles of today will surely come to pass, hold strong in your faith and vision and the rainbow will bring fresh beginnings

Presley Love

Getting caught last evening in a flash thunderstorm where huge drops of rain fell sideways due to wicked prairie winds felt like just another hurdle to surmount. I stood inside the vestibule of the building I was leaving, wondering if I should just go for it and run out to my car or try to wait out the onslaught and stay dry.

My internal debate went back and forth as puddles outside grew into small lakes.

Fortunately, common sense won the day and I patiently waited for the rain to quit. It seemed to stop as suddenly as it began, with Mother Nature’s special alchemy mixing atmospheric gases creating a spectacular double rainbow. It easily met the standard of an awe inspiring moment.

By the time I got out my iPhone to shoot a quick picture, it was starting to dissipate. But the magic of a rainbow after a harsh storm, somehow speaks directly to you, causing you to pause and pay attention. We all experience those inner shifts at times of transitions in our lives. When we are able to consolidate our thoughts and feelings with memorable external experiences that seem to delineate an important marker in time.

A symbolic way to tuck the past behind us while moving forward.

Rainbows have symbolized new beginnings, inspiring hope, in most cultures around the globe through the ages.

If a new beginning is in the cards, I’ll gladly take it.

Stay happy and safe!

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Scatter your creative story seeds…

Photo L. Meyer

Let your story surprise you. Lay a place at the table for an unexpected guest. Embrace the unforecasted storm. Allow kind characters to do something cruel. Let the selfish ones sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Be surprised. Be amazed.

Sophie Anderson

When the writing process becomes routine or even worse, when you get stuck in a bottomless rut, it may be helpful to simply turn your work on its head. Shake everything you are doing up, down, even sideways. At the very least, you may have some fun or discover a few diamonds in the rough worthy of using in some form of prose.

A recent foray while editing a piece of micro fiction left me stymied and ready to permanently hit the delete button. But a stray piece of creative advice from a writing retreat last month about cutting up writing that doesn’t seem to work, must have planted a small seed in my brain. And sprang forth when I least expected it.

I took the piece that I had been wrestling with, enlarged the font, then printed it out. With what felt like a whim, I proceeded to just cut it into pieces. The pieces dropping onto my desk reminded me of ephemera for collage or words cut for found poetry. So it seemed natural to paste them on a sheet of paper. Randomly. Without really looking at the actual text on each piece of paper.

Convinced that this would simply be a transformed word jumble, I left the mess to dry and went to make a cup of coffee.

When I returned to look at what I had done, I was surprised by what I found. Sure, the order of some of the pieces of paper stretched the grammar aspect a wee bit, but overall, I read in those words, the glimmer of a new story. A better story.

It was legible enough that I was able to return to my computer and resurrect a new piece of prose. I was slightly amazed that from that jumble of words pasted haphazardly on a piece of paper, a transformed piece of fiction began to emerge.

This time round this tiny micro fiction story resonated somewhere deep inside of me bringing forth new energy for the editing process. Who knows what this piece may look like when something clicks and lets me know that it is finished. But the reawakening of this prospective prose piece inspires hope and optimism.

Stories living inside of us are at times, weird and wild things. But finding ways to keep working to guide them into the world, brings a sense of satisfaction like none other.

Happy writing!

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Release the pause button on play…

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

We do not stop playing because we get old; we grow old because we stop playing

George Bernard Shaw

Have you ever found yourself slugging through your day to day life and realized that playfulness is not part of it? Watching two neighbourhood children today, chasing each other while blowing soap bubbles and giggling so hard one of them began to hiccup, I felt like I had an epiphany. Play. That is what seems to be missing from my present “taking everything far too seriously” adult life.

It’s typically something fairly innocuous that alerts you to that dawning sense of something being amiss. But once you figure it out, you can’t unsee it.

Probably the state of mind most helpful during times of stress and strain, is a playful mind. But it is also the hardest state to transition to when everything in your immediate focus is through an intensely serious lens. And when it seems any spare moment should be dedicated to some task or type of work that needs to be completed, or at the very least, doing something “worthwhile”, play seems frivolous and far removed.

Knowing that there are adverse consequences to play deprivation, I have been trying to create a “play” list. (Pun intentional, ha – maybe I will get there after all!). Photography has always been my favourite way to play and I haven’t had my camera out for quite some time. Point of fact, the battery was almost dead. So as I write this, I can glance over at my camera on the charger and see that it still has a ways to go. Just like I do.

There are a multitude of ways to tap into this desired state of mind. A quick web search reveals a plethora of articles, blog posts, research studies on the importance of play to our overall well being and stock ideas about how to incorporate it into our busy adult lives. But it seems trite to assume that by playing video games, doing crossword puzzles, dancing in your kitchen as though no one is watching, could magically counter the impact of stress and burnout.

So where to begin. Reflection on this challenge seems to point to a sort of mind over matter type of thing. So it seems like if I can wrestle with the biggest barrier, attitude, I feel like I might just be on my way. And it also seems important to set goals to play, to do things with absolutely no purpose, to simply seek out moments for mindless enjoyment and fun.

How weird that part of responsible adulting becomes losing touch with that most important aspect of childhood. To be playful. Seems so simple when I write it like that. But I have a sense that I am going to have to work hard at my play goals. Wish me luck!

Stay safe, have fun!

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Growing creativity

Photo L. Meyer

Push yourself to try new things whenever you can. It keeps you growing creatively. Remember that there is no right or wrong way to be creative; there is only the way that allows you to express who you are.

Catherine Anderson

Last year in the midst of a prolonged heat wave and subsequent drought, I decided that if gardening stopped being a source of joy, that I would either give it up or do things differently. Well not digging in the dirt and growing things simply wasn’t an option this year when spring finally rolled around. So instead, I chose to shake up some of my “go to” plants that I have grown for years, like castor beans, which no longer possess the same magic they used to.

So trying to grow a Kangaroo Apple Tree seemed like a good idea at the time I bought a small, strange looking green plant with spiky little leaves. The garden centre clerk warned me it could grow as tall as 6-8 feet and produce both flowers and fruit which sounded intriguing. This bushy plant is now blooming with delicate purple flowers, which sadly our harsh prairie wind at times, blows to smithereens.

But this adventure has provided a surprising element of daily excitement as I come to understand what this new plant requires in order to flourish. And the fascination of watching this aspect of nature adapt and transform to whatever conditions it grows in, doesn’t get old either.

Thriving, not just surviving, this plant now three feet tall, is a daily reminder that we can be creative in all aspects of our lives. Growing this unique plant native to New Zealand, provides me with an ongoing lesson about the importance of taking risks, being playful in any situation, and allowing the process of discovery to unfold as it should.

All of these serve as reminders that creation in any form, is one of the most amazing activities we can undertake. Our creative paths are unique to who we are and require open hearts and open minds. Being present to experimentation, brings a multitude of benefits. Not the least of which is an opportunity to start thinking and seeing in new ways.

There are many unexpected teachers available to us to share the process of creative discovery. We just need to take advantage of them when they appear in our lives.

Stay safe, be creative!!

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Focus for a restless creative spirit

Photo credit L. Meyer

Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything

Joyce Carol Oates

What do you do when those tried and true tricks to jolt your writing heart to begin ticking again, falter, and then fails to beat with any sort of rhythm. Those horrible times when it doesn’t seem likely you can resuscitate your writing practice. Maybe never again.

You try journaling – going with the admonition to never lift your pen off the page. Free write in longhand, not on the computer. Go for a walk. Take photographs of random things on said walk. You seek out graffiti art hoping the creative spirits of youth in your community will somehow be contagious. Perhaps flipping through your well worn copies of craft books could help. Not today.

So you give up and start listlessly wandering around the internet until your hips hurt from sitting and your eyes get so dry you have to squeeze drops into them. But you still are searching for that spark. Something to light that fire that normally burns throughout your days and some nights and has allowed you to create stories. And those random pieces of writing that you just know have potential to become something.

And just when you have given up, you read an email from a dear friend. A suggestion about a book of essays with a couple of stories thrown in for good measure. Written by Jo Ann Beard, titled, Festival of Days (2021). So you find it at the library on the e-book catalogue, download it and read the first essay. Her writing is wonderful.

It seems like a justifiable use of your time since you just read that part of the writing process is reading. But reading like a writer. Still thinking on that one so for now it will be reading like a reader.

Suddenly you have to run to the computer, and low and behold a story just spills out. There it is on the screen. A sh*tty first draft, as Anne Lamott would say. And you review and read it over again one hour later. Whoa – not bad for the first outing after a dry spell that had you worried you would never write again.

The craft of writing seems to be a process that is in part mysterious, even mystical. There is a spiritual side to the muse and when it takes you on a journey it isn’t necessarily a straight ride. You can be down, feel flat, and suddenly it lifts you up, and re-opens your heart.

Creativity may be a fickle friend but is a friend indeed.

Happy writing!

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Words to live by…

Source: Anonymous

Watching the events that have been unfolding south of the border, has been astonishing and upsetting in equal measures. As a woman, I have grown up in a time and culture where human rights are at times hard to come by. But once enshrined, it seemed inconceivable that the right to make choices could just be erased.

As the world grapples with a war, climate change, roaring inflation, threats to income and food security, it just boggles the mind that we will likely be facing another summer of social discontent. And given the previous power struggles over how to manage the pandemic, one can only hope for a better display of human civility.

The time is now to work with one another collaboratively rather than pulling even further apart on ideological issues that drive self-serving politics. There are simply too many tangible pressing world needs that must be addressed with immediacy.

If only our world could be sprinkled with a modicum of respect, kindness, and care, imagine how far we could go together.

Stay healthy and safe!

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June 21st – Celebration, in a good way

When I think of National Indigenous People’s Day, I think of celebration. I think of laughter. I think of family.

Sherry McKay

Set against a backdrop of spiralling negative news clips, our country was able to draw a collective breath of fresh air yesterday. The celebrations for National Indigenous People’s Day provided a series of teachings about the power of community, family, connections, and above all else joy. In a good way.

Traditional ceremonies to mark summer solstice, through the lighting of fire, smudging, feasting, dancing, storytelling also opened doors across the country for connection with each other. A day to put aside stories about war, inflation, pandemics, violence, and the rampant anger that seems to have a stranglehold on our communities.

A day of remembrance, recognition, respect and hope for reconciliation. Showcasing a vibrant multi-layered culture. Unveiling memorials to commemorate the dark, dark history of residential schools. But above all, a lesson about the spirit of a people who understand deeply what the concept of freedom is about.

A coming together to honour and celebrate the cycles of nature, of community, of family, and each other. And an open invitation to everyone living in this country to share in some way, this journey of healing through understanding, acknowledgment, and love.

A truly special day shared with all of us, teaching us to suspend worry, fear, and our ever present anger, to simply enjoy what we have, where we live, and who we walk with.

Stay happy and safe!

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Listening to the stories of others

Photo by Ali Camacho Adarve on Pexels.com

Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.

Karl. A. Menninger

It is a rare moment when we are afforded the opportunity to listen deeply to the stories that others have to tell. Most typically, our listening skills become dull and impotent as we age, when the stressors in our lives loom large and bloat. When the incessant news spin that we all seem to gravitate towards, churns on relentlessly spitting out negativity. But when those golden opportunities present themselves to listen to the stories others are telling, it both elevates and transports us.

Last week, I had the privilege to attend the launch event for the reading of my stories published in a literary magazine. Along with more than a dozen other writers. Albeit nervous and out of practice attending public events, I was thrilled to be a part of it. The venue chosen had a serene and sacred atmosphere, quietly understated and elegant. A perfect space for the telling of stories created deep within so many hearts.

Sitting, masked in an audience of peers, fellow creatives and aficionados of the writing arts, sent shivers of excitement up my spine. But I quickly found myself drawn to the readings of every writer that night in a manner that I can only describe as magnetic. Each story, spoken through the voice of the creator, seemed so vibrant it was as if the words shimmered and then planted themselves deep within me.

Listening is a skill that I realize I often take for granted. Hearing these stories live not only moved me in unexpected ways but brought home the fact that listening deeply to what others have to share doesn’t happen often. There are times when a life lesson taps you on the shoulder when you least expect it and you know you must pay heed to it.

Perhaps as I move more bravely out into the world, it is time to seek out more opportunities to hear the readings of creative work. So I can again, listen with intent and heart to hear the stories shared by those around me.

Stay safe, happy listening!

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Strength in numbers: The power of a writing community

Photo by Leah Kelley on Pexels.com

It is now five years later and there are more than 15,000 people from all over the world signed up for the annual 1000 Words of Summer project, with even more than that likely participating. Every year more wonderful authors contribute their thoughts on creativity, productivity, and inspiration.

Jami Attenberg

If you have ever needed a large dose of motivation to kickstart a project, you probably know that the most positive way to keep going is with the support of other people. In particular, members of your tribe. The people who know how difficult the writing journey can be and are able to offer heartfelt affirming words of encouragement and ideas.

When I find my energy for writing starting to become limp, I turn to the members of my writing group for support and inspiration. So when I happen upon other writing resources I tend to gravitate to them.

Last year, I read an essay on the #1000 words of summer annual project led by Jami Attenberg but filed the idea somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind thinking it probably would be worth a try. Not ready for taking this project on last June, I did however, sign up to receive her newsletter, Craft Talk.

As the date for beginning the #1000 words of summer 2022 writing event drew closer, I started paying more attention to the explainer that was sent out and some of the testimonials. As the June 4th kick off date drew closer, I thought more and more about this and decided to sign up to participate.

Belonging to this burgeoning writing community came with no cost other than the need for a commitment to write every day for two weeks.

Certainly sounded doable so I signed in to join the slack and prepared to become a part of this large writing community. Inspiring words have also been shared from amazing luminaries, Roxanne Gay, Sara Novic, and Min Jin Lee with more to come each day. Their personal experiences with the writer’s life have also helped nudge my motivation and I have written more than the minimum for the past four days.

Writers share thoughts about their writing, or lack thereof, roadblocks, and energy levels on the slack platform. It is both validating and affirming to learn that my experience is not unique. Simply part of the writing process.

(https://1000wordsofsummer.substack.com)

And it feels serendipitous to have discovered a large group of writers from around the globe who want to share resources, encouragement and motivational tips and techniques. What a wonderful place to be!

happy writing!

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Braving the publication journey

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I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.

Anne Lamott

Have you ever finally gotten up enough nerve to send out pieces of your creative writing to literary magazines only to receive a declined notice in Submittable so fast it gives you whiplash?

Or maybe you have a secret list of favoured publications that you dream will one day accept a piece of your best work. So you finally get enough nerve to take the plunge, hit submit but then wait for weeks and weeks. When you are just about to give up, you decide to send a query about the status of your submission. And receive a warp speed response that is a combination apology/rejection note.

Perhaps you have worked hard to complete your edits, have carefully reviewed the submission guidelines, and crossed your fingers (arms and legs) as you hit submit. Then a few days later you take a peak in your Submittable account and discover your work is “In progress”. And you have read somewhere that the longer it takes to be reviewed the better the odds are that you are going to have your work accepted. So having your prized piece of work linger in that state must mean something is going to happen. Right?

You just know that this is it. This has to be your moment.

And then, it happens, the rejection that reads like a form letter. Or worse yet, a hastily written personal email that actually has a typo in it!

So you decide then and there, that you are writing only for yourself, to learn the craft, to honour and express what resides deep in your heart and soul. You will learn to become content to leave the publication racket for those who have more gumption than you have. You know you should have gratitude that you were published some time ago so resign yourself to this uneasy state of acceptance.

And you carry on, writing often but at the same time growing uncertain about what you will do with all of the work that now languishes in draft Word folders.

As time passes by, you forget the sting of rejection and the emotional roller coaster that accompanies the submission process. You have read that all writers go through this and that it should be considered part and parcel of becoming a published writer. A real writer would face the risk of rejection head on, leaning into the idea that this is growth oriented and actually a positive.

So you submit three pieces of flash fiction to a magazine that you respect but you aren’t convinced will result in publication success. But it is part of learning so you treat this as an educational opportunity. You have read that collecting rejections can be an important aspect of the writing process.

Some time passes and then, suddenly in your list of new emails, you receive a notice of acceptance. Unbelievable! Your work will be published in a print literary magazine and you may agree to read your work at the launch. A launch, what!

So you go through a new process, working with an editor to prepare and ready your work to shine in the best possible light in a print publication. Along with the work of so many amazing writers.

And then the day comes, you open the mail and find two complimentary copies of the literary magazine, spring, Volume 13 which contains two of your flash fiction stories. You sit down to flip through the magazine, admiring the beauty of the cover art and the layout, breathing in that new print smell. You close your eyes in order to fully capture this moment. Then you quickly scan through the table of contents and find your name. Twice.

You do that smiling and crying thing at the same time. And a single thought occurs to you – this risk/reward publication thing in the field of writing – it is really worth the journey!

happy writing!

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5,6,7,8…who do we appreciate?

Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Surround yourself with people who add value to your life. Who challenge you to be greater than you were yesterday. Who sprinkle magic into your existence, just like you do to theirs. Life isn’t to be done alone.

Alex Elle

Visits to my dentist are typically low on my list of fun things to do but yesterday I had a bit of an epiphany while I was there. During the past two years, each visit to that office has seemed surreal and somewhat disturbing. Walking into a giant waiting room with only three individuals spaced more than six feet apart, masked, sitting in chairs under signs that declare we will be pre-screened for safety was not just daunting but truly weird. Then a masked health professional would come ask a series of questions, take your temperature, and have you sign a consent that advised your level of risk to develop Covid was higher during dental procedures because of aerosols.

But yesterday all of that had disappeared. The waiting room was full, some people had masks on and some didn’t; the pre-screening event was off the table and an innocuous question about how I was feeling seemed to be the extent of worry about the ever present virus. The dental technician was chatty and full of life and every detail of the visit seemed what I would have expected pre-pandemic.

So it got me reflecting about how I have been living my life during the pandemic, especially for the past six months. And re-examining my understanding of what personal assessment of risk really means. Caring for an ill family member has meant trying to isolate and avoid illness at all costs. But really what are those costs and what is that level of risk?

Research has shown for a number of decades that social connection increases life longevity and as you grow older your risk of death increases even more if you are isolated, see few friends or family members, and spend long periods of time alone.

Prior to the pandemic, I was certainly aware that taking those closest to us for granted is something that is insidious and happens often. Many of us spend our working lives striving for appreciation and recognition. As we age, friendships become more like commodities, time seems to be spend chasing, rushing, working, rather than enjoying those that we love the most.

Having goals and wanting to succeed in life is admirable but at the end of it all what is most important are those closest to us. Friends and family backstop having purpose, focus, and feeling like you matter. The pandemic has highlighted how much value should be placed upon our emotional and social connections. Relying on technology to facilitate interactions with those important in our lives, leaves an understandable void that may introduce negative health consequences that should not be ignored.

Indeed, when thinking about the risks of social interactions in this world we now live in that includes covid, it seems paramount that we also consider the risks of isolation and reduced face to face contact. It seems entirely possible that by trying to avoid a virus we may inadvertently sacrifice the quality of our relationships at the expense of our overall health. That is definitely food for thought!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Priming the Creativity Pump

Photo by Alexander Zvir on Pexels.com

Creativity researchers have identified an effective strategy, known as priming, which is a way to jump-start our creative thoughts and feelings.

Trish Osler

Your mind is truly a fascinating space. The relationship between neuroscience and creativity seems both intriguing and worthy of further exploration. Indeed, becoming more mindful of the role that my brain plays in the creation of art could allow me to create distance from that harsh critical voice that chastises me for not writing well or even worse, anything at all.

Often I find myself wondering why it is that some days words flow like a steady stream from my fingertips to the computer keyboard and on others, they remain stalled in mid pose. And why is it that random things like washing the dishes or pulling weeds can precipitate ideas that are startling in their intensity and vibrance.

How is it possible that the mundane aspects of daily living can precipitate the creation of a piece of artwork?

Really, have you ever wondered why some art projects flow like snow melt in the spring and at other times the whole thing just becomes mired in mud.

Fortunately, neuroscientists have a term for this process. Priming. Just like priming a pump, seemingly innocuous events and activities can push your creative stalls into the right place by the introduction of new stimuli. Simple sensory activities like creating an image journal, or listening to music, and mindfulness meditation have been found to function as primers that increase the connections that the brain makes.

And strangely enough, the content and focus of your priming activities do not need to have any relationship to whatever creative problem you might be struggling with. In fact, research has found that allowing your mind to wander afar is more beneficial than intensifying your focus on what you are stuck on.

So being more unfocused allows your mind to do what it needs to do, to wander and play with new ideas, images and sensory snippets in order to move through any blockages to your creative path. If we can stop our tendency to self-shame or blame when we our creative drive veers off course, it seems important to learn which priming activities may help us move forward.

So the next time I feel stuck or unable to write, I am going to try and discover how this aspect of research from the field of neuroscience might “prime” my next creative block and free my brain to move forward in its own unique way.

happy writing!

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Re-thinking word count goals

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Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Strunk & White, The Elements of Style

Have you ever tried to force yourself to write in order to meet an arbitrary word count? It is a ponderous, painful exercise. I have been attempting to follow an oft repeated suggestion that setting a word count is an effective way to establish a daily writing practice. Not only is it purported to be helpful but should be considered an important guideline.

But learning to develop other aspects of craft can fall by the wayside as you grapple with the energy to meet this goal.

And if you are writing flash fiction, it becomes counterintuitive when trying to cultivate aspects of compression in your writing. Learning how to capture the essence of a situation with a brevity of words is a critical micro skill that doesn’t come easily. Especially to someone like me, who trained academically in another field where being wordy was both accepted as well as expected.

Writing is about showing not telling. Which can be hard to learn to do if you have a tendency to ramble. Sometimes it seems that adhering to goals that no longer serve us should be easy to let go of. But somehow that dark shadow of perfectionism creeps into your head reminding you to achieve a daily word count. If we aren’t mindful of this tendency to hang onto goals that no longer serve our purpose, it can haunt our efforts to learn to tell stories well.

Learning how to use very few words to tell a story that generates a complexity of emotions is more difficult than it sounds. Compression techniques are the underpinning of flash fiction. So my writing goals are evolving from trying to achieve a specific number of words to experimenting with other ways to develop and build my “compression” muscles.

Whether I practice writing 50 or 100 word stories or attempt to create a story in the format of a bingo card, I am feeling more confident with the focus of new writing goals. Learning to honour the elusive art of compression rather than the length of story seems a worthy alternative to monitoring word counts.

And writing goals just like any goals we establish in our lives should serve us in our growth and development. Learning when we have outgrown a disciplined habit requires flexibility and patience.

Now if only I could remember to stop myself from clicking the drop down box to reveal my word count before I leave my computer!

happy writing!

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So why do you write?

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

Writing is about getting to know more about the world – both the external world around you and the internal world inside you. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.

Robert Lee Brewer

Ever had one of those awkward moments where someone asks you what you have been doing lately and in a moment of excitement you mention that you are writing. Which launches the next question, oh what exactly are you writing? And for many writers who are in mid project, it can be dicey to try and explain succinctly what you are currently working on.

This tough question is often followed by a query about whether or not you are published and if you are, where your work can be found. Small literary journals either online or those still in print, don’t usually lend themselves to brand name recognition. For non-writers at least.

So unless you are discussing aspects of the writing world with a member of your tribe, most well intentioned people politely shift the conversation to something else. Quickly.

Perhaps this type of scenario might cause you to falter for a moment and ponder the question – why am I writing?

Because we all write for different reasons. We might write in order to be published. We might write because we have a need for recognition. We might write to touch the hearts and souls of people. We might be someone who writes for a living. We might write because we have an inner need to express ourselves using this creative vehicle.

But whatever the reason(s) our writing practice is often deeply personal. So to share this path you are on with someone who is not travelling on this journey with you, can leave you in a space where you feel misunderstood or dismissed simply because you know in your heart of hearts that you are a writer.

Writing is about taking risks. It is about having courage to learn to express what resides deep within. It is about having faith in your powers of observation and about being willing to fail when the words don’t line up quite right. Writing is about riding the wave of creative inspiration without knowing where you will end up. It is about a deep and enduring human desire to tell stories.

I am learning as I continue to write stories that this is how I make sense of my life, the world, and the people within it. I recognize that while many of the reasons why I write are fluid over time there is something deeply necessary about expressing myself this way. So for me writing is about growth and discovery and above all else, it is about having hope. Hope that my world will make sense and has meaning.

So why do you write?

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Finding focus…again and again

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Creatives often lose focus when they tackle a particular creative project or intellectual problem. They start with great enthusiasm , certain in their bones that they know what it is all about. Then, even after just a few days, it becomes less clear to them what they’re doing.

Eric Maisel

During a writing class this past weekend, the instructor spent some time discussing how to leave a project you are working on to attend to the myriad aspects of daily life that require we do something other than write. But the challenge is, how do you get back to that magical place where your writing energy was high? That place where the why of what you are doing creatively seems crystal clear and words are rushing out of you. Up until something we are pressed to do elsewhere interrupts that flow.

Finding our way back to that creative focus can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for a writer.

And for some unknown reason I have been labouring under the misconception that this particular problem was unique to me. Gazing at the number of notebooks with unfinished stories, abandoned ideas for books, first lines of poetry on my book shelf causes unbidden feelings of frustration, shame, annoyance to surface. And once those feelings emerge they threaten to overwhelm the thinking part of my brain that understands this is all part of the writing process.

In Eric Maisel’s latest book for creatives, titled, Redesign Your Mind, he notes that “the ways in which creative projects can dim, lose their lustre, and shift out of focus are legion”. So learning more about this aspect of the creative writing process seems paramount if one wants to become a writer who “finishes” their projects.

It seems that this is a typical problem that like most aspects of creative work if understood then it can be solved. I was glad to know that it is not just a “me” problem but one that impacts other writers and creative souls.

One of the suggestions that resonated for me was to develop a habit where prior to leaving your desk or computer or your notebook, that you write out where you think you want to go next, to frame questions that you want to consider or reflect on when you return to the page. Sort of a quasi developed pathway in point form about where you need to go next.

And what if you still can’t figure out where you were going with a piece of writing when you are finally able to get back to it? Then it seems best to simply write and keep writing. The magic seems to be in discovering what you are writing by actually doing it. Sometimes where you finish seems far removed from where you began. And really, what is wrong with that!

happy writing!

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Grappling with uncertainty

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If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity.

Eckhart Tolle

Uncertainty often manifests itself in our lives as a primary stressor. The longer we experience it, the more challenging it is to learn to embrace it, accept it, or to thrive in spite of it. And the more frequently it pops up in our lives, the more it becomes subject to our innate negativity bias and fills our emotional spaces with worry and anxiety.

The pandemic has fit this bill like a glove. But any situation that is unknown to us especially one that may bring hardship and chaos into our lives quickly shifts into something we wish to avoid. But summoning inner resources and resolve to face tough situations builds muscles of resilience that can help us become stronger over the long term.

So how do you go about finding a way forward and what kinds of tools do you need to develop?

Having a support network of family and friends to backstop you as you navigate the harder things in life has always been a top priority. Learning to use mindfulness techniques to stay in the moment and avoid ruminating about the past or projecting wishful thinking onto the future is often helpful. And at times easier said than done.

But cultivating a state of being curious about what you are facing can help you stay focused on where you need to be.

And curiosity often creates a sensation of playfulness or lightness, helping you stay out of judgment, and clinging to our unhelpful attachments to things. Using statements like “what other ways can I look at this” or “what if” can be useful when you are teetering on the brink and need balance to face what life is bringing your way.

Research shows that curiosity may help build tolerance for anxiety producing situations and encourages unconventional ideas to solve problems.

Being okay with uncertainty, letting things pass, trying to think about how you have both feet on the ground while you walk helps lighten the load when you are facing difficult circumstances. Reminding myself to be curious, to slow down and observe what I am facing, lets me tap into creative responses to life’s challenges.

And right now, I am going to remain curious about whether I can maintain this mindset when I need it most.

stay safe!

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snow covered tulips

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There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

Every time I have checked the news on my computer during the past forty eight hours, I am reminded that we are anticipating a wicked spring snowstorm. Expected to be one of the most cataclysmic snowstorms in decades, it certainly sounds ominous and has kept the journalists busy. Instructions for emergency preparedness and supply lists to keep you covered for a period of 72 hours seem to be everywhere.

Having started to get ready for spring yard work, changed winter tires to summer ones, and finally watched the last of the snow melt leaving behind the proverbial snow mold on my lawn, I am finished with winter. Spring has been slower this year compared to the last couple of years but it is in evidence most places you look.

I have a solitary tulip that comes up all by itself first thing early each spring so it often receives the tail end of a cold, snowy prairie winter. But it keeps coming up, year after year. Actually, it has persevered in spite of harsh weather conditions for more than thirty years.

And I have always considered it a bit of a touchstone or a comforting kind of reminder that in spite of the many challenges we may experience throughout life, we are in fact, resilient and our struggles pass.

So like my stalwart solitary tulip about to get pummelled by a dreadful spring snow storm, it reinforces that I too, am resilient and can weather what life throws my way. Even when the conditions or circumstances threaten to be overwhelming. Like that tulip, if I remain mindful rather than reactive, hold space for hope, then passing storms will move along and so will I.

Stay hopeful, stay safe!

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Finding your voice

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A writer’s voice is the way your personality comes through on the page, via everything from word choice and sentence structure to tone and punctuation.

Katherine Schulten

Have you ever wondered how to find your writer’s voice? It doesn’t seem as simple as the voice you bring to the act of singing or speaking. As a beginning writer, there are times when I feel like I am stumbling around trying to find my voice. When I am stuck I find myself worrying about what writer’s voice really is which will send me searching for the answers in craft books or on the internet.

But the reality is, our writing voice lives deep inside of us. The act of creation calls to us to be exactly as we are. Even if we feel like we are trying on shoes that are the wrong size. When we do our creative work, once we allow ourselves to become immersed in it, we often discover that unconsciously we are bringing our writer’s voice to the page.

If we look closely, we can discern the word choices we make, the tone, and our writing style as a reflection of who we are. And over time, this recognition strengthens and becomes intuitive.

When we bring our writer’s voice to the page, we are writing with emotion, passion, and we bring along all of the positive and negative aspects of ourselves. Our dislikes, attitudes, beliefs, wishes and our fears will all show up in what we write. Worrying about what our voice sounds like or is saying will often inadvertently make our words flat, dull, and perhaps unintentionally disingenuous.

Strangely enough, the act of immersion in a piece of creative writing can take us out of our judgemental minds and the less we try to write in a type of “voice” the easier it is to tap into the voice that is your own. Creative work allows us to express what is in our hearts – the pieces we write speak for us in the world. And the more we practice speaking with our authentic voice, it becomes louder and resonates with clarity.

If there was ever a reason to ensure ego doesn’t show up on your page, this would be it. Everything you create with your whole self, with your passionate self, with your true self – is a self-portrait. An unbridled, unfettered word picture of who we really are. And that is the best aspect of the poems and stories we write.

Happy writing!

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Titles: Discovering the soul of your story

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A title has a big job. It is the first thing we read. It gets our attention and highlights the tenor of the piece. It’s shorthand for the tone, perspective, and content.

Bonni Goldberg

Having spent the past couple of days editing, reworking, and in some cases, re-writing pieces of flash fiction that have been languishing in a folder, titled, “not finished”, it dawned on me that choosing a title is a critical part of craft. And it is one that presents as simplistic but is more difficult than it sounds.

For many of the pieces of short prose that I had abandoned, the working titles chosen no longer seemed to fit. Like a broken puzzle piece, a poorly crafted title leaves a gap, a tiny void that grows larger through the distance of time. Flash fiction could be characterized as a full story living in a tiny space where the economy of words requires each choice be meaningful.

And the title is not merely the beginning but should reflect the essence of the story’s meaning or its soul.

So I took time to approach this task with a sense of playfulness – drafting at least ten titles for each story and then leaving it for a day before returning to see how these new possibilities lined up with meaning of what I had written.

My discovery through this process led me conclude that titles are a bit like shapeshifters. Through the kaleidoscope of reflection, there are different ways to present the meaning of your story and titles do in fact, play a leading role.

This seems somewhat parallel to the manner in which we use titles in our day to day lives. We frequently describe ourselves through title, usually with intent to announce to the world our successes or achievements. Rarely do we refer to ourselves based on our relationships, our place in the world, or the things that have the most intrinsic meaning to us.

Imagine attending a meeting, or some type of social event and introducing yourself as who you are – a mother, a wife, a daughter, etc., rather than what you do or where you work.

So if a title reflects the soul of story, whether it is one we have written or our own work in progress, it makes sense that considerable time, energy, and thought go into what it should be.

Happy writing!

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Writing into spring

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There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never know quite where they’ll take you.

Beatrix Potter

There is something magical that happens deep within me at the time of spring equinox. My energy levels lift, the piles of snow that remain in my yard no longer matter, and I feel compelled to plant something. Usually only seeds from one type of plant because in this part of the world, it is far too early to anticipate digging in dirt outdoors.

But still, stepping into springtime simply by looking at the calendar and starting a single seedling plants a much needed sense of hope. And so does being able to resurrect a writing routine.

The promise of warmer weather, budding trees, and blooming flowers seems to serve as a springboard for creativity. Ideas flow faster than I can capture them and write them on a page. When I seem to stall, a quick visit to the outdoors where the sun shines brighter and feels warmer, is often enough to shift gears and prompt me to keep on writing.

Earlier worries during the long winter months about not having enough time or inclination to write no longer permeate my days.

Perhaps over time I will learn not to fret about what seem to be the natural ebbs and flows that are part of my writing practice. Circumstances beyond my control put a halt to my progress learning the craft of writing. So faced with ongoing worry about whether I would get back to the page, many days were spent with loops of thought that in hindsight were actually instructive.

It seems that the lesson I needed to pay attention to through this time was learning how to honour the times when words flow easily as well as those times when they don’t.

Creating a first draft always leads to something more. Especially when you have the time and energy to devote to it. In most ways, this seems parallel to the life cycle of growing plants. There are different periods of time where the act of writing unfolds by planting those first words, nourishing, watering and weeding them, and helping them grow until they are ready for harvest.

So I will take the time to honour the new words that are emerging as I move into spring this year and cultivate them just like seeds ready for growth.

Happy writing!!

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Age: Can it be a state of mind?

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Everyday experience suggests that we often don’t experience aging the same way, with many people feeling older or younger than they really are.

David Robson

Every so often we have those strange moments in life where our experience in some way defies reality. I bumped up against one such an event last week. During a conversation a friend mentioned that someone I have known for years had retired. But I couldn’t believe this because somehow I was locked in prior decades when my mental reference point was from a time when both this person and I were working.

And ever since I have been struck by the fact that the way I perceive my subjective age is quite different than my chronological age.

And when I checked in with other people around me, they echoed similar experiences. What was most fascinating was that the variability in subjective ages most people have also represents their current state of mind. Not only does it vary from person to person but also from circumstance to circumstance.

This gap between a person’s felt age and what is listed on their birth certificate changes as we grow older. Adolescents and young adults often feel older than their true ages while as we start of accrue more and more birthdays, many of us subjectively feel younger. This discrepancy between felt vs. chronological age has been studied for the past five decades.

The expression “you are only as old as you feel” is true for many. Influenced by our inner mental world and the status of our physical health as well current life stressors, “felt” subjective age can be variable throughout our lives.

The phenomenon of one’s subjective or felt age changes the energy that we bring into our day to day lives. I recognize that when I am excited about certain things or people in my life, or when I am high in a creativity cycle that my youthful self seems to be front and center. Conversely, when juggling too many tasks, when life seems overwhelming, or when we experience tragic events, we can feel older than we ever have before.

And healthy sleep has been identified through research to have a huge impact on our subjective sense of age. That resonates – for those among us who have struggled to have a good nights sleep, we often feel weary and older than our years.

When these times emerge, it often signals a time to take rest, to grieve, to simply slow down and pause until our energy levels are restored. So learning to focus attention to these ebbs and flows that may influence our subjective age, seems a skill worth pursuing.

And hopefully the next time I bump up against the commonplace ageisms that are ubiquitous these days, my subjective inner youthful self can quietly chuckle and simply walk away.

Stay healthy and safe!

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“H” is for Hope

Photo credit L. Meyer

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

Desmond Tutu

It is difficult to go through a day’s activities without being impacted by horrific images from the devastating reality of the war in Ukraine. No matter where you are in the world, this awareness permeates the lives of most humans today. And it is also hard not to grasp the degree of faith and hope that the people of Ukraine are bringing forth in order to preserve their land, people, and culture.

Hope is not a superfluous concept. Indeed, the lack of it is a significant barrier to positive mental health and at times, life itself. One of the biggest risk factors in suicide is the degree to which an individual experiences hopelessness. Dreams and beliefs are abstract concepts that live in our minds but hope requires doing something.

Hope is a cognitive practice that can be taught to children and adults and is comprised of intentional goal setting and then working towards them with purpose. So when we watch, read or listen to stories from across the globe of those people who are striving to reach their goals in the most difficult, overwhelming and violent circumstances, and could peel back the layers here, we would find hope at the core.

Hope is not wishful thinking but rather it is action oriented and purposeful.

“Optimistic people see the glass as half full but hopeful people ask how they can fill the glass full” – John Parsi, the Hope Center.

So if we are able to take any degree of action to help our fellow humans across the globe, we too, can touch that place that shapes right minded thought and warms human hearts. And instills belief that humans can have hope that peace will prevail and be restored.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Sunflower: A symbol of hope for Ukraine

Photo credit – L Meyer

The sunflower possibly surpasses all others in terms of its universal power to bring joy to people.

Kristen M. Stanton

As most of the world watches in horror as Russia invades Ukraine, efforts are ramping up to provide support and solidarity from around the world. Viral videos of a woman trying to hand a Russian soldier a small number of sunflower seeds so they will grow after he has fallen in the dirt, precipitated my desire to better understand the symbolism of Ukraine’s national flower.

Long known as a flower signifying optimism as its head is always turned towards sunlight, the sunflower has a special place for many people around the world. Symbolic meanings also include honesty, longevity, and peace.

Sunflowers serve as a food source for man, birds, and mammals. They are a practical flower as well as spiritual and symbolic.

A botanical plant that has the ability to absorb radioactive isotopes was planted at the sites of what were previous nuclear missile silos in 1996 when Ukraine committed to total nuclear disarmament. Representatives from the United States, Russia and Ukraine were apparently able at that time to plant sunflowers, together, peacefully.

Perhaps now it will also come to signify solidarity with peace loving citizens around the globe to honour the freedom so important in democratic societies. Let’s hope the powers of good around the world prevail and support the Ukrainian people in their time of need. And honour all that the sunflower stands for.

Peace to all.

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Boredom: A path to creativity?

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Boredom is your imagination calling to you

Sherry Turkle

Bored. That uncomfortable sensation of inertia combined with an undertone of leg jiggling anxiousness. I recognize the sensation but struggle to grasp the words to define it. My inner voice tells me to just shake it off, haunted by a long past memory of my mother’s melodic voice, sort of teasing, sort of chastising, telling me that I have “ants in my pants” and that I just need to go find something to do.

But that seems near impossible during those interminable dragging moments when everything is tainted by the drab beige colour named, “bored”.

Is it this particular point in the long Canadian prairie winter where it is cold beyond belief that induces this sensation? Or life circumstances beyond one’s control that find us slipping into that place of doing things by rote and routine. Whatever the driver to this particularly hellish place, most of us do whatever is necessary to escape it.

While being bored is an uncomfortable emotional state for most of us, it does have a silver lining. Research show that tasks that would meet the criteria as “boring” or “mundane” often cause a cognitive shift from lack of stimulation. This place that most of us either try to avoid or struggle with provides a unique opportunity for our imagination room to play, grow, and expand.

Children who are bored seem more easily able to launch themselves over this hurdle than adults. Most parents have endured that grating whine about being bored only to discover that their children have solved the boredom problem quietly on their own by engaging in some manner with their creative impulses.

Maybe adults lose their play touchstones as they grow older or maybe the sheer number of activities that seem like dreary tasks on a never ending to do list thwart our creative, joyful inclinations. And the more of these tasks we have to complete, the further away we move from that place where play and creativity can be launched.

Some of us are fortunate enough to find solace in daydreams that spur on our creative energies. Others are able to parlay the boredom state to a place where they create art, music, photography or to write. Neil Gaiman said, “You have to let yourself get so bored that your mind has nothing better to do than tell itself a story.”

So the next time you feel bored pay attention to where your mind wanders and see if the state of boredom recedes into the background and creativity emerges to take its place.

Thankfully, studies show that most of us can’t stay in the boredom state for long periods of time. Finding the patience to use those times when we are so bored we can’t stand it may lead us to a place where we are able to find and embrace our creativity that we thought was far away and out of reach.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Maybe it’s time to take a break…

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A break is never a waste of time

Lynn Zubernis

It would likely be a safe guess that the majority of Canadians have been paying close attention to the events unfolding in our nation’s capitol and the protests along several border crossings across our country. The Freedom Truckers Convoy, ironically named because at this point they are now infringing on the rights and freedoms of people across Canada, are demanding that all pandemic public health mandates and measures end. Full stop.

With semi-truck horns blaring 24 hours a day, the smell of diesel fumes choking the citizens who live in the area they have occupied, and offensive signs and actions recorded by television cameras for perpetuity, there seems to be no end to this incredulous display of anger and disrespect. As this drama has unfolded, it is apparent that anyone who had an axe to grind and lots of time to go do it, now feels compelled to pontificate and shout disinformation at anyone who happens to pass by.

Politicians of right wing political stripes were the first to wind up their pandemic guidelines in an effort not to be caught on the wrong side of this simple minded debate. So much for protecting the vulnerable, following the science of public health officials, and supporting our beleaguered health care workers. The vast majority of people in this country have done everything they could do stem the tide of the pandemic in their communities and now it seems too matter little.

Certainly most of us are beyond weary of the pandemic and all that it has brought to our daily lives. But the current chaos being played out across our country in the name of “freedom” is beyond the pale. While politicians declare states of emergency, and then argue and debate whether it is or isn’t a crisis, the protestors become more entrenched with an under current of violence now rippling through this sea of discontent.

It hurts my heart to watch or listen to this corrosive narrative. So it seems the best way to move forward through all of this, is to simply pause, breathe, care for those you love, turn off the news and enjoy a well earned break.

Stay safe and healthy!

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And around we go again…

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Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?

Bertrand Russell

Today was a kind of watershed moment in the pandemic. Our provincial government has decided to ignore science, forgo public health measures, and to leave its citizens in the dark as to the risks posed by Covid 19 either now or in the foreseeable future. Enamoured by populism and a desire to put economic priorities first, a brazen and dangerous group of politicians are leading our community back to the place where we will pretend that the pandemic is over.

Even though we have been in this exact same spot six months ago, there is something about this time that seems both strange and surreal.

Amidst the blaring of semi-truck horns and angry anti vaccine crowds, the stage is set for drastic changes. Perhaps it is the backdrop of our nation’s capital being under siege by protestors who want all Covid restrictions eradicated that emboldens other like minded politicians across the country.

With no real plan for global vaccine equity and an astonishing active case count with record hospitalizations where I live, it makes little sense to rush to the goal line while we are still playing the game. So much has been lost over the past two years.

Gone are the days of working together for the greater good. Gone are the days of placing even a modicum of trust in government. And gone are the days of being able to count on a public health care system that has served the needs of my family for years.

The silent majority, those individuals who have followed public health guidelines to keep both themselves and their loved ones safe have been left in the dust. But at what cost has that silence come? What would the world be like if the silent majority – those people who are respectful of others, follow the rules, work to support the vulnerable in our society, decided to collectively give voice to their concerns.

Imagine if this larger segment of society spoke out in meaningful ways, loudly and proudly. Would we see the tail end of this dangerous political machine that disrupts our ability to live together peacefully and work collectively to end this pandemic?

Let’s try it – we have come full circle and reached an end point with no return. Close the door on harmful populist rhetoric that pontificates about individual freedoms which is simply code for “my needs come first no matter what”. Finish this chapter of poorly written policies uttered in willful ignorance and open a new one.

A new chapter that cares about people, that is truly inclusive, to keep everyone safe and healthy. These dark moments deserve to be relegated to the past, simply a bitter footnote best left forgiven but not forgotten. Let’s hope our days of moving in circles are soon over.

Stay safe and healthy!

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What to do when you don’t feel like writing

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There are two of you – one who wants to write and one who doesn’t. The one who wants to write better keep tricking the one who doesn’t.

Maria Irene Fornes

We all experience those moments – where something we love to do, like writing or creating art, feels overwhelming, or lacks that wondrous sparkle, or we are simply buried by the minutia of life’s responsibilities and obligations. So we park our creativity on a shelf. Thinking we will return to our dreams in just a moment or when things simmer down in our lives.

But the reality is that the risk of never moving forward with our artistic aspirations or creative goals becomes incrementally higher until it is something we can no longer surmount.

Letting the part of ourselves that just doesn’t feel like writing take over can be a subtle and insidious process. And once we arrive at that place, it becomes a destination. That is hard to get away from.

So putting one foot in front of the other, or the pen to the page and going through the motions may be likened to exercise. The more frequently you do it, the stronger the “muscle memory” you will be able to call upon during those times when you just don’t feel it.

We all have days when creating a piece of art in any form is just not within the realm of possibility. But the trick is to make that the exception rather than the rule. Learning to take small steps and just do one thing that contributes to your craft will keep you moving forward and strike a note of manageability at the same time.

So even when life places more demands on you than expected or you simply don’t feel emotionally able to write a word, if we are just able to focus on the simple act of writing anything at all, or any activity that supports your writing goals, then we haven’t given up, we are just managing our own expectations.

Then when the time is right, you are able to resume your practice without having to scale those mountains of self-recrimination, shame and blame which may keep us from experiencing the joy of our artistic practice as a writer.

Stay healthy and safe and happy writing!

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Finding rhythm under pressure

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Rhythm is essential to a healthy body and a healthy mind. Every person in the world can probably think of something rhythmic that makes them feel better: walking, swimming, music, dance, the sound of waves breaking on a beach…

Dr. Bruce D. Perry

We all likely have experienced times where stress and pressure threaten to overwhelm us. Feeling out of sync, becoming isolated from those we care about, or paralyzed by low level fear are emotions that many of us have become more familiar with during the pandemic.

And as life continues on, there are those moments of stress that somehow seem to find us at our most vulnerable. They threaten to knock our ability to self-regulate off kilter.

And if we remain in a constant state of vigilant alertness, it begins to take a toll on our health. And chronic stress sucks that sense of joy out right of us like a super sonic vacuum. So finding our own rhythms again is necessary to help us regulate and come back into balance.

Discovering go to activities can be a bit of a process of trial and error. When walking, my preferred way to bring balance back into my life seemed to lack that regulating oomph, I found myself floundering. I tried knitting, listening to music, but couldn’t locate that thread of rhythm that I was looking for.

However, I began to notice what was having the strongest impact were conversations with friends and family members.

And the flow of those conversations also had a rhythm.

Push against that impulse to isolate from others. Reaching out and accepting the calming support from those people in your life who care about you is healing and restorative.

We are surrounded by natural rhythms which are deeply embedded in our biology. Taking the time to discover what may bring you back to balance is well worth the struggle to regain our footing when life pushes us off the path.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Write vs. Edit

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Writing is 10 percent about writing first drafts and 90 about editing. If you feel like inspiration is hard to come by, that means you get to focus on the things you already have.

Danez Smith

When you are stuck, it can be a relief to realize that you have lots of other writing work that you can tackle. For many of us, editing can be just as difficult to begin but if you develop a routine for this part of the work, it helps you with the toughest part of the job – finishing a piece of writing.

Creating a new piece of work is exciting, words that come rushing out in a torrent following those initial moments of inspiration are often exhilarating. But writing anything in a rapid manner will mean that time must be spent in careful editing mode at a later date. And often we need to let those initial ideas we have ferment like kimchi or sauerkraut.

If we develop a practice that includes times for generative writing, times for reflection and reading, and times for editing, we can move forward at the right pace for our creative energy levels. But that means developing an understanding of how the flow of your practice works for you at different times in your life.

Sometimes it is easier to put a piece of creative work aside and return to it when you have both the time and the inclination. But what happens if these inspiring moments are left to languish in a notebook or maybe in many notebooks. At times, we are easily able to return to words previously written and flesh them out into full fledged pieces of work.

If we don’t, all is not lost. Those words can be a bonanza at those times when you think you can’t possibly write about anything at all. Return to them, play with them, move them around this way and that. See if those words that once energized you, that were shaping up to tell a new story but stalled either through the business of daily life or simply inertia and then left to linger untouched, can become new again.

Dividends may pay off at those frustrating times when you can’t think of anything to write about. See if those older words can come alive again in new forms or repurposed to tell new stories. Writing isn’t always about that flash of creative spark but also about nurturing times to edit or to recreate those words you laid down before.

It can be amazing to discover that there are many pathways to getting writing on the page.

Happy writing!

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Take your creativity for a walk

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Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.

Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz (2014)

Stumped by a much needed revision of a piece of flash fiction I had written sometime ago inadvertently led me down the “rabbit hole” commonly known as the internet. And I happened upon a fascinating study about walking and creativity titled “Give your ideas some legs: the positive effect of walking on creative thinking” by Oppezzo & Schwartz (2014). Further descent down the internet rabbit hole, revealed a wonderful Ted talk by the lead author which was inspiring and provided food for thought.

Using an experimental design study, these psychologists were able to quantify what many writers and other artists already know. That walking stimulates the creative process and often may be the best mechanism to become unstuck when you hit a roadblock in your work. Studying how the activity of movement can stimulate a brainstorming approach to creativity that is intentional can form a valued part of your artistic practice.

These results differ from what is known as the “shower effect” where an idea just comes to you from out of nowhere. What the researchers were focusing on was the relationship between movement and creativity and how this may contribute to better brainstorming approaches.

There are some steps that they suggest one consider to achieve the most optimal impact:

  1. Setting an Intention – choosing a problem you are facing and would like to solve will prime your brain to consider various solutions (brainstorming)
  2. Walk at a comfortable pace – or choosing any physical activity that doesn’t require a lot of mental focus
  3. Generate as many ideas as you can to solve your problem while you are walking
  4. Recording (using your phone) the one or two ideas that you believe would fit best and that you intend to pursue when you complete your walk or other activity, and
  5. If nothing comes out of your internal brainstorming process, leave it and come back to it at another time.

What I found most interesting in the study results, (given that I live in a cold winter climate for many months of the year), is that even walking on a treadmill while looking at a blank wall had an impact. Although being outside sitting and simply enjoying nature has cognitive benefits, this research demonstrates that the act of walking or slow movement itself may promote a creative mindset for problem solving.

Which was great news because when wicked winter weather strikes in the Canadian prairies, walking on the treadmill is usually how I get my exercise. So when I am home bound due to winter windchill temperatures in the -40’s and -50’s, it is heartwarming to know it is still possible to open up the flow of those creative ideas on the treadmill!

And once I finished learning more about how the relationship between movement and creativity works, I promptly went out for a walk to try it out. And I did manage to make some progress in my revision work as a result. Further self exploration with this over time will tell if this is something to intentionally build into my writing practice. Who knows, maybe there are some benefits to procrastination!

Stay healthy and safe!

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Embracing intentions

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And now let us welcome the new year – full of things that have never been

Rainer Maria Rilke

Given the current chaos in our lives with the recent uptick in Omicron, it seems less than inspiring to even contemplate making some sort of resolution for this new year. And truth be told, resolutions never seem to have the right fit in my life anyways. Making a resolution usually makes me feel obligated to do something arbitrary that I have chosen for the wrong reasons. So it seems to only set the stage for failure when I try to push myself to adopt a frame of mind where I think I must accomplish some random task.

And even pushing myself towards that goal doesn’t help as it often fizzles and fades away in a few weeks or months.

Since I am spending more time in quiet solitude these days, I have been thinking about the spirit of setting intentions versus resolutions.

By definition an intention relates to having some purpose. And purpose in our lives often has a deeper seated meaning and value than a haphazard goal.

As I embark on this path forward to being a writer, part of my transition comes with the realization that what I am passionate about requires me to move into the role of student. A beginning learner if you will. Learning more about the craft, about myself and what expectations I bring to the process of writing. As my words populate a page, it is humbling to be aware that there is much about being a writer that I have yet to learn. Maybe I never will.

So I am seeking out teachers, mentors and classes that resonate with what I need to learn now. I am fortunate in that I have time to devote to this…and perhaps feeling safer at home rather than out and about has prompted me to be realistic about what I can do these days. So my intentions this year are to learn more about the craft of writing. To be okay with and embrace the beginner mindset and to absorb as much as I can.

And to reframe the way 2022 has started and to be grateful that the external circumstances around me are assisting with this motivation to learn, grow, and to write.

Stay healthy and safe – Happy New year!!

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It’s a wrap

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It is always important to know when something has reached the end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.

Paulo Coelho

Bitter arctic air has descended bringing dangerous temperatures that are forcing prairie people to hunker down in our homes. What better time to reflect on the year that has past than now? Listening to Joni Mitchell’s, the River on repeat interspersed with Leonard Cohen’s, Hallelujah serves to set the background for my year end reflection and introspection.

This year has been a rollercoaster and I vacillate between thinking about those moments when the virus retreated which were far too short along with those longer times when it seemed like it would never end. But there is something healing about making the effort for reflection. It seems right to stop and think deeply about where you have been and what the meaning of this journey has been over the course of 2021.

Flipping through sporadic journal entries made over the past twelve months reveals that I did in fact accomplish everything I set out to do to further my goals as a writer. Seems ironic as my recent mindset has been stuck in a place of agitation and frustration that I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to this year because of the pandemic.

But like so much else this year, that is an illusion. My writing practice definitely was strengthened by participating in two excellent immersive flash fiction courses this past summer. At times these generative writing activities flowed like a summer river producing some interesting pieces of work. I published one single story this year and have decided that is cause for some celebration.

And I realize that if you procrastinate and don’t submit pieces of writing that seem finished, your work will never be released into the world.

At other times, working on other projects, taking a break and laying fallow produced surprising results. So that needs to be considered as a necessary part of the work of a writer. Being creative in other ways results in a combustible spark that pays off if you don’t give it too much thought. And really working to achieve a level of focus needed to edit a piece of writing is as important as the generative stuff. Maybe even more so.

Connecting with fellow writers eases the strange world we find ourselves in. It is uplifting to know that we are not alone. My gratitude and heart felt connection to the members of my writer’s group tethers me to this craft and to them in ways I never anticipated. And taking time, of which I seem to have in abundance, for reading also connects me to the world of writers. Writing once per week here continues to anchor me and gives me courage to set my words free.

So although 2021 is ending and I am not sad to see it go, there is much that has been learned through this year, and much indeed to feel thankful for.

Happy Writing and Happy New Year!

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Winter Solstice: Time of letting go

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It is a time for acknowledging hope in the darkness, while waiting for the light to return.

Lynda Monk

People in the Northern hemisphere have just finished celebrating Winter Solstice in quieter ways but still with strong interest during this powerful time. Many use this time of darkness as a traditional marker for letting go our concerns that weigh us down; releasing those that no longer meet our needs or suit our current life purpose. It is a time of inviting hope into our future as the days grow lighter and lighter.

The time of a winter solstice invites us to reflect on nature’s ebbs and flows; a mirror for those ups and downs we have experienced during this year of 2021 which seem more pronounced than past years. It seems we are being urged to listen more deeply to the rhythms of our natural world and to pay greater attention. We may be encouraged to approach those in our lives with an extra measure of kindness and caring.

As we move through these trying times, our reflections serve to help us focus on what matters most in our lives. Nature’s powerful lessons about being in darkness and then entering the cycle of light serve as reminders that difficult times move along and so will we. This message of hope demands that we pay more attention to the aspects in life that have the most meaning for us.

May you stay healthy and safe wrapped in the love of all of those who matter most in your lives.

All the best during this holiday season!

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Joys of helping in your community

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I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.

Jana Stanfield

I don’t know about you but I feel like I am going through my days with a dark shadow lurking over my shoulder. We have been inundated recently by news clips shouting warnings to us that “Omicron” is coming and will be the next virulent variant in our lives. It has taken an extra bit of energy to rise above this and to keep moving forward in a good way.

The pandemic has revealed the stark reality that there are significant divisions in our community. The need to help others by following the lead of inspiring people providing support and sustenance to everyone living in our community somehow shines light in the darkest of times.

Whether it is stocking the community fridge with quality staple foods, or donating warm clothing to shelters that are doing huge amounts of work with scarce financial resources, or writing letters to pressure our government to fund safe consumption sites, there is always a small part for all of us to play in making things a little bit better.

Community based non-profit organizations serve as our moral compass to a roadmap of helping. They also serve to educate about the multitude of unmet needs that have grown larger and larger. Learning about how an individual can help the most may be an eye opening experience. And it dispatches the sense of alienation and isolation that the political machine uses to divide and conquer.

Even with the sensation that another wave of Covid is just around the corner, finding a way to help others provides a sense of well being that is much needed right now. After another year of loss, anxious anticipation, and at times feelings of hopelessness, the timeless art of helping others to help yourself serves everyone in our community. Caring for others as you care for yourself always works – even at the most challenging of times.

Stay healthy and safe!!

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Alert: Make time for people in your life…

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Be grateful for every second of every day you get to spend with those you love. Our time together is short and so very precious

Brad Turnball

Since March, 2020, the globe has contended with a pandemic that has shaped our lives in forms that at times seem unimaginable. Many of us have followed the public health rules that have kept friends and family members safe. But an unintended consequence of these critical efforts to stay healthy and keep others that way as well is that we have become isolated.

Isolated in ways that are not beneficial. It seems that many layers of our lives have become insulated in ways that inadvertently prevent us from life affirming connections with those people that we love and care about. Even if we stay in touch, it is likely sporadic at best.

A recent life threatening medical event for one of my family members has shone a light on how easy it is to carry on from one day to the next without mindfully nurturing those connections that pre-pandemic seemed so essential and easy to take for granted. Realization of this fact has loomed large in my life this week as the stark reality hit home that I have not seen some of my family members for well over a year.

And staying in contact through technology which was easy to do in the beginning of the pandemic has waned over time. It’s just easier to avoid taking the time to set up a Zoom meet.

Many months into our challenges with Covid-19, I am realizing that I have indeed, found it easier to stay home in my little world than to be intentional about how I can connect with those I care about in safe ways. Which can be done. It just takes effort and the will to make it happen. Before it is too late.

It seems that now is the time to choose to find pathways to be more connected with those I love and care about and not just when a crisis comes calling. I am tired of a virus running my life. If I need to mask, social distance, be vaccinated, open windows, take rapid antigen tests, no problem. If public health guidelines preclude in person contact, then I need to do a better job at reaching out through some technological medium.

But sticking my head in the proverbial sand and unintentionally becoming distanced from those I care about the most, is now over and done. I just wish I would have understood this was happening in my life months ago.

Stay healthy and safe!

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Breathe first, write second

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I wish somebody had told me that I could slow down and take writing at my own pace. If you feel like you’re getting left behind…take as much time as you like

Danez Smith

Writing prompts are a curious tool in a writer’s tool box. They provide an inspiring jumping off point and the associations created in your mind may lead the way forward to a surprising piece of work. But if you rush to respond to the prompt by putting words immediately on the page, you may find yourself fumbling and then faltering.

It can be off-putting to say the least.

During this year’s Flash Nano, I discovered that if I let the prompt roam around in my mind before sitting down and attempting to write, I was able to turn over story possibilities until all of a sudden an idea would affix itself to what needed to be written and then words would flow with ease.

I experimented with this throughout the month of November and also learned that I could apply a similar principle to other pieces of work. Spending some time in mental preparation would invariably lead to a much better result. This is much the same as what athletes do prior to a big game event. They spend hours in mental preparation by visualizing what will transpire while in a state of relaxation in order to achieve a better result.

Writers often place an inordinate amount of pressure on themselves rather than letting the process of creating a piece of art unfold in the mysterious way that it does. Forcing words on a page without preparation may work for some but it definitely doesn’t do anything for me.

Even in a free writing situation, I have discovered that it seems better for me to relax first and consider what I want to explore during the writing session. I seem to need that tiny bit of preparation for the words that I need to write and the stories that I need to tell to move from my mind to the page.

So in addition to completing at least one piece of flash fiction every day for 30 days, I was able to learn more about what my brain needs to produce a creative piece of work during the month of November. Definitely a win/win this year!

Happy writing!

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One writing prompt, so many stories

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I never consciously set out to write a certain story. The idea must originate somewhere deep within me and push itself out in its own time. Usually, it begins with associations

Ray Bradbury

Today is day 24 of Flash Nano, where during the month of November some writers are attempting to create thirty pieces of flash fiction in thirty days. With a burst of eager anticipation, I signed up again this year seeking to continue this voyage of discovery as a beginning writer. And this is the exact same spot I faced last year where I felt my enthusiasm wane and began to struggle to put words on the page in response to a writing prompt.

But I have been experimenting this year, taking one prompt and trying to create two separate flash fiction drafts – one in the morning and one in the evening. And it is fascinating how your creative brain can take the same prompt and deliver different responses, sometimes the divergence is drastic and astonishing.

Maybe this is like the snowflake phenomenon, where every snowflake in the world is precisely unique in some mysterious way. Writing stories that emerge from that unknown place that resides somewhere inside of us tells us more about how we think about our world than we may be mindful of. The best part of this experiment was the realization that as I have developed a writing routine, the spark needed to begin doesn’t have to be particularly special or profound.

It feels as if there are an infinite number of stories in us that we just need to gently nudge to bring into the world.

Picture prompts, first sentence lines, a snippet about a bizarre circumstance, all of these types of writing prompts seems to propel us to create something that is individual only to ourselves. And it is a worthy exercise to pay close attention to how other writers respond to the same prompt. It seems that we all have stories that need to be told.

When our writing group uses a prompt for spontaneous generative work, I love hearing how each of us approaches the words on the page. It is a marvel to listen to how other writers using exactly the same prompt have such diverse results. I learn something new each and every time we do this. Storytelling satisfies both our curiosity and that need for knowledge that we all have about each other and how we see the world.

The beauty of a writing prompt is that provides just a tiny push forward to release our words out into the world. And anything that helps us kickstart the writing process can only be a good thing.

Happy writing!