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The beauty of a simple goal for the new year…

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Learning to do and think less is an important skills that can be practised and one for which you will be rewarded.

Moshe Bar

Setting goals and expectations for the new year seems to get more challenging as I grow older. (Not old, mind you, just older!) This past year saw most of my plans derailed by a loved one’s health issues and I am left wondering about whether failing to set goals is any worse than not meeting them. So I have been reading about this time honoured tradition and the corresponding litany of suggestions about how to set goals that you will actually pursue throughout the entire year.

Seems that not meeting one’s goals may be more common than succeeding in achieving them. And one can only assume that not meeting your own personal expectations will lead you straight into an emotional mine field, replete with berating yourself up for such failure. And that would be failure with a capital F.

Truly, I wonder why humans persist in doing so many things that cause us to feel badly about ourselves.

This scenario is so typical that it is difficult at this point in the calendar year to avoid media reports, podcasts, and articles about this phenomenon. So why even bother?

Most of us know what our overarching goals are, and at any point in our lives during the course of a year, we are perfectly free to add in new ones. To try different ways to better ourselves in any way we conceive of whenever we want. So the necessity of having a new years resolution, new goal or series of them, is a traditional type of thing that has become an ingrained cultural habit.

And this yearly ritual is not always a helpful habit. But still most of us persist…

So when I read an article relating Moshe Bar’s theory of thinking and doing less as an essential skill that one needs to build, I was intrigued. It turns out that it is okay to let our brains follow us on a path of doing nothing. Our tendency to clutter our lives and our minds with noise and busyness and constant stimulation makes it harder for our brain to function in an optimal way. Most of us feel guilt if we are not doing something all of the time. But it turns out, our cognitive function is enhanced by allowing ourselves to embrace moments of distraction, losing focus, or by zoning out.

Neuroscience has demonstrated that allowing your brain to “mind wander” increases both creative problem solving and decision making. Those are both critical skills for a writer to have in their executive functions tool kit. Moving our bodies, say by just going for a walk or training ourselves to see ordinary things in a new light using photography or mindfulness techniques are a couple of ways to cultivate this.

Research suggests that learning to enjoy times of silence, cultivating a daydreaming habit, and clearing away mental clutter may all help to allow us to become more self-aware. And the more we get to know ourselves, the easier it is to work on meaningful projects or skills which ultimately will serve our desire to have purpose in our lives.

So for this year, that will be my focus. Learning to do and to think less. As life has a tendency to crowd out smart goals anyways, learning and developing what sounds like a simplistic (although likely not) skill seems to make sense to me this year. So cheers to 2023!

Happy New year!!

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Kind and Caring Wishes for this Christmas season

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Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and relieving those of yesterday.

Gladys Taber

The lead up to this Christmas season has once again been one of increasing anxiety and a multitude of concerns such as a triple viral threat; inflation and supply chain issues; record high mortgage rates; the ongoing war in Ukraine and so many other negative stories that relentlessly spin before our eyes in the daily news cycles.

In just a few short days many of us are preparing to celebrate Christmas in spite of all the challenges before us. We learned last year that even under the duress of the pandemic that we could still connect with family and friends in some meaningful way.

We are tasked again with making memories perhaps in a different kind of way given the challenges we are now facing. But if our focus remains on what truly matters, the love and caring support of our families and friends, we will get through these trying times just as we have in the past.

It will be memories of the kindness and caring of others that will matter the most. Please know that I am sending to you the best wishes for this Christmas season. May you stay healthy and safe wrapped in the love of those that matter most in your life.

Best wishes!!

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It’s okay to take a snow day!

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Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes… including you.

Anne Lamott

We likely all encounter those moments in life where we wish to bury our heads under the covers, forget responsibilities and obligations, and just hope for the best.

When the weather outside is so bitter, it is dangerous to venture outside without risking frostbite.

When too many items are precariously piled on our to do lists and you long to simply snap your fingers and wish it all away.

When you don’t seem to be able to gain traction and get started on a project you have wanted to work on for awhile.

When you spend a lot of time reminding yourself that you should be doing something that you don’t actually wish to do.

When we were children, this was the kind of day that we loved. A snow day – time to stay home and build forts in the living room and bake cookies in the kitchen.

Learning when it is time for a pause, for a rest, to unplug and recharge never seems to come easily for us in our adult years. So when you are able to acknowledge that you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and feel like you are just spinning your tires, it is truly alright to just pause. To stop, breathe, and regroup.

No judgement. No internal arguments. Just suspend all of your self-imposed pressures to get things done and give yourself permission to take a well deserved rest.

Actually glancing outside and looking at the ice crystals suspended in the frozen air, today seems like it will be a perfect snow day.

Stay warm, stay safe!!

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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?

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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!