Month: February 2023

My State of Mind

My mind is heavy with stories that aren’t mine to tell. People I love are traversing some emotionally volatile terrain. Others are facing life choices around new medical information. At the same time I’m on the last weeks of running toward a conference and a gala that I’m helping orchestrate, and I’ve gotten rolling on a writing project that was stalled for months. I am spending my days alternating between highly effective and jellyfish puddle.

Yesterday I was all kinds of sad. Today I feel hopeful. I’m trying to not equate well-being with productivity because correlation is not causation. I’m looking at tomorrow’s tasks and hoping that I can continue work on my writing projects because even though I know about correlation and causation, I do think that when I spend time with ideas and purpose, I am steadier for everything else.

Advice About Writing Groups

This weekend I was part of a conversation where I was asked to give advice to people who are looking to form writing groups. I wasn’t completely happy with my on the spot thoughts, so, in the spirit of mentally re-hashing conversations and rehearsing what I wish I’d said instead, I’m going to write down my advice here.

Writing, whether for personal amusement or with the intent to build a career, can be a frustrating and lonely experience. To stay balanced and keep perspective, you really do need a writing community, and you need other people to look at your work to help you see the things you’ve been missing. Forming a critique group is one of the ways to meet those needs, but it is not the only one.

Before forming a group, or joining one, it is very useful to spend some time thinking about what you need in order to grow and thrive in your writing life.

Format: Some groups meet online, others in person, still others are hybrid. Some are talking based others are text based. Some have strict time keeping others more free flowing. Some are critique only, some are primarily social, some have guest lecturers. Each of these format options serve different purposes and you should pick the ones that best match the writing needs of the people in your group. Some writers need to feel close and safe with people before hearing critiques, others want a level of emotional distance from the other people in order to not take the critique personally.

Frequency: How often is your group going to meet? How often can people submit work for critique? Are there page/word count limits? Think about what is sustainable with the schedules of the people in the group. Once per week might be just right, or it might start causing problems with partners and other commitments.

Methodology: The critique group where the writer sits quietly while everyone else discusses their work may be a very common method, but it is far from the only one. Some methods are collaborative, some are discussion based. Some require everyone to bring pages and read aloud. Others require submission in advance. What is the agreed upon framework for offering and accepting critique.

Ground rules: what does your group consider out of bounds for your group both for discussion and for reading content? Does everyone need to take turns bringing snacks? Talking through in advance how things will work is key to having a smooth group.

Purpose: In some ways this one comes first up above when I told you to consider what you need from a group to thrive as a writer, but now I want you to give focus to that thought. What purpose does this group seek to serve in the lives of is members. Is your group purpose an exchange of critiques or is your group purpose emotional support for your writer journeys? The purpose of your group should affect all of the decisions about the group format, frequency, methodology, and rules. If your group purpose is “exchange of critiques” but your format has you meeting monthly with snacks and the first hour of each meeting is purely social, then you’ve mismatched purpose and format.

In a good group, you will get out of it way more than you put in, but you have to be willing to put energy in. You have to think about how you can contribute to keep the group running smoothly.

There are so many more things that can be said about writer’s groups. This is just a launching place to help people get started.

Long Slow Remodel: The Wall is Gone!

It has been more than a year since my last Long Slow Remodel update. You can click that link to see all the older posts. This one is big. We finally demolished the wall between the kitchen and the front room.

Shot from above with a front room and a kitchen space divided by a pantry wall.


The wall between the two spaces is gone making them be one large space

Comparison of the two pictures will show that in addition to removing the wall, we’ve re-located the door to the garage making space for the fridge on the kitchen side of the door. Eventually that peninsula counter will be removed and replaced with an island counter. All the flooring will be replaced as well. We’re sad to lose the birch and walnut in the front room, but we’ll be salvaging it so that it can be re-used elsewhere. I comfort myself with my plans to do decorative woodworking around the windows and the fact that I’ll be hand finishing all the wooden cabinets we’ll install.

Next week our hired guy will come back and finish re-wiring light switches. He’s also going to solve the problem where that garage door doesn’t have stairs. Right now we’ve got a step ladder set up in the garage to let us get out there without falling.

I’m hoping that in a few weeks I’ll have additional progress pictures to show with the new fridge, crown molding finished, and everything ready for the next stage, which is deciding what cabinets to buy to replace the existing cabinet configuration. I’m just happy to see progress. I’m also observing how this change in our living space is already creating behavioral changes that are making us more social with each other. It is good progress.

Sorting Thoughts on a Saturday Morning

I sneak awake at 7am on a Saturday when the house is quiet. Within moments of me stepping out of my room, three cats manifest, hopeful that me being in the kitchen means they will get food. They’re not wrong. Then I find a corner, quiet, with no expectation, no other people to consider. I flip open my laptop and dodge my email to land here. I’ve stolen a quiet space in the middle of my over scheduled life. Just a week ago I was in Seattle taking five days of stolen time to pay attention to what it feels like when I step outside my usual patterns. I wanted to answer the question of what happens if my hours are uninterrupted. I’d hoped that the result would be work on my creative writing projects. Mostly what happened was that I slammed my way through the To Do lists that were portable. Using the space to push many of those tasks to completion because the guilt of not having them done was taking up space in my brain that I wanted to use for other things. I did return with significantly less burden of guilt around admin tasks, but also a newly polished sadness about not making progress on my creative work.

7:10 am another human is awake and walking around in the kitchen. Strange how different it feels to be the only one awake and to know that someone else is moving around. Their existence disturbs my reflections like ripples on a pond. But they don’t come find me and I am practicing not jumping to tend to the experience of others simply because I’m aware of their existence. I’ve claimed a space this morning for contemplation, in part because one of the things I noticed upon returning is how rarely I’m able to task swap at my own pace. My mind is more at rest when I can finish a thought and close it out then transition to the next thing. What happens far more often is that I am interrupted by someone who wants to talk, or a time sensitive errand, or a scheduled meeting. I jump to the new thing while holding the final tendrils of the prior thing in the back of my mind. When this pattern repeats (as it usually does on a daily basis) the back of my mind becomes a tangled and dangling mess of tendrils with no moment of completion.

I used part of today’s stolen moment to go peruse the blog posts I wrote while on last week’s trip. Sadly the very first of them is thematically very similar to this post. I’m writing about stolen moments. Again. It feels like a failure of planning that I have built a life I need to steal moments from just to give myself space to breathe. This existence is vastly different from those endless days of the early pandemic when deadlines were canceled and grief processing took up the largest portion of most people’s days. Yet I can trace the roots of my current over-scheduled life back to seeds that were planted back then. The uncertainty of the world at large creating urgency and a need to store up financial and creative stability against a future time when the whole world shifts unexpectedly. During the pandemic I watched the graphs and numbers trying to understand the scope and threat of what was happening. Now I read articles about legislation and the economy for the same reason. I develop my massive piles of administrative tasks because I believe they stave off helplessness and secure my position both professionally and financially.

Sometimes I am able to recognize that I will never be safe enough. That no amount of planning or saving will completely secure the future. And that if I spend all of my day in a frantic attempt to do so, I will have traded away my life for the illusion of control. Succeeding in finding toilet paper did not solve the pandemic, sending all the emails doesn’t change the economy. So at some point I need to declare a space that I’m allowed to occupy with things that use resources instead of conserving them. Because surely the point of having resources is for use.

7:40 am there are now multiple people moving through the house. None of them have found me yet. I picked my corner well this morning. If they want to seek me out, they’ll find me, but many of my people are verbal processors who start talking through their thoughts the minute they are sharing space. So when I need focus, I have to find a space where they have to decide to come find me.

I’m still pondering how to give myself uninterrupted hours and time to complete one thought before transitioning to the next. Ideally I will learn how to fold those gifts into my daily life instead of having to stick myself on a plane and fly to another state to accomplish it. I’m also sitting this morning with the very specific Imposter Syndrome of wanting to work on my non-fiction book that seeks to help people re-structure their lives around the creative work they want to do, while my daily life is so packed with tasks that I haven’t worked on the book in months. As I write that sentence and feel the truth of it, I also know that my organization this year around my priorities is exactly in alignment with the content of the book I’m writing. And that sometimes creating life stability, as I’m seeking to do this year, must come before creative flourishing.

7:50 am the first person came to find me, but it was Howard checking to make sure I’m okay because usually I’m still in bed at this hour. Also he’s volunteered to bring me breakfast, so that disturbance in my stream of thought is more a win than a loss.

And here, at the end of an hour of musing about stolen moments, emotional repercussions of pandemic, and being over-scheduled, I am finding thoughts about the books I want to write. Pondering whether I should write my creative advice to a more specific audience rather than diffusing the message of the book by trying to make it broadly applicable. I should probably acknowledge that everything I write comes from a suburban-dwelling, economically comfortable, white, college-educated perspective which shapes the advice I give and means that some of it will be impractical for other life conditions. Except I would like to be able to write a book that has something of use for almost everyone. I don’t want to only write for people who move through the world in the same ways that I do. But I can’t let anxiety about this or the specific imposter syndrome prevent me from putting words on the page. I can always fix them in response to feedback later. But words that aren’t written can’t be fixed.

8 am. Time to stop sorting thoughts and start getting things done. Perhaps some of those things will be writing words on my projects.