Daily Blog Challenge: Three Things I Learned

This is the final post of my October daily blog challenge.

Writing a blog post each day for a month was harder than I expected, but easier than I imagined. I missed one day but I gave myself a deserved pass after energy well and fully spent selling jelly. On at least fifteen other days, I clicked “New Post” feeling doubtful. I can’t do this today. But I did, mostly because it was easier than I imagined.

The Daily Blog Calendar Challenge

I expected this to be the most challenging of my challenges so far, but it easily lags behind healthy daily movement. The goal was to make writing for myself like muscle memory, a good daily habit, a practiced craft. Although I write boat loads of words every day, I was not taking time to write for myself.

In general, the calendar challenges have made me more mindful of how I spend my time, what I make time for. The challenge to make time for and be mindful about writing drove home some specific, unexpected lessons. These are not new thoughts, but the process helped me embrace and trust them.

  • Small things can be profound. Woven into the minutia of our days are subtly rich threads of wisdom and emotion. When we reflect on our rainbow dances, frustrations, or walks through the field, we wrap ourselves in them.
  • It’s a crooked path. Nearly every post I wrote was retitled once if not a half-dozen times. The observations I led with unfailingly took me somewhere else. Seizures might end up being a post about embracing strength in the face of vulnerability, working through the frustration of a botched appointment might become about the culture of blame.
  • Trust myself. If not myself, at least trust my words or thought patterns. This is in part authenticity: being myself. It’s also mindfulness, which is seminal to the calendar challenge I took on. A chunk of it, maybe the most important for writing, is letting go and allowing, letting words lead me, trusting them, even through the crooked jaunts along the way.

Tomorrow I’ll start a new calendar challenge. I haven’t decided on it yet, but I may make it a little less up hill. Especially since tomorrow is also the kick-off of NaNoWritMo. But I’m ready! I have this writing habit!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

The Quiet Work

Recently, work became a frenzied flurry of files and folders as we made final tweaks to a project, trying to keep the files flying at a pace that would guarantee meeting the big deadline. My teammates and I received comments like:

Wow! You’re on fire!

That felt nice. But the feeling was a little iced when I realized:

This is normal for me. I always work this fast and furious.

Although this truth is annoying, it will never change the “visibility” of the quiet work I do during most of any project.

In Praise of Quiet Work

What is the quiet work? For “job” work, it’s excel spreadsheets, PhotoFixes, file sorting, data logging, or whatever drudgery your job includes. You might be on fire, getting it done at a sharp clip, catching and resolving the slipperiest of problems, but few see that fire. Not because it’s unworthy, but because it lacks the flashy that excites. You’ll miss out on the dopamine that comes with praise and a sense of accomplishment, but the quiet work is arguably the more important part of a project, and makes those Wow! You’re on fire! moments possible. The quiet work is the ground work.

For creators, the quiet work begins with staring at your screen, canvas, wheel, loom, or whatever tool you use to create. It includes organizing your workspace, sorting your beads or yarn, sitting alone with your words, tubes of paint, or tubs of clay. The quiet might be interrupted by flurries of discomfort and restlessness. Before I’m truly quiet, I get up to grab a handful of nuts or water the plants. I pace around the room, rearrange the furniture. I might even do a little housework (gads!). But then I sit down and I sink into the quiet work of creating. The attention (yes, we’re vain, but that makes for better creations) will come later.

Remuneration for work and the satisfaction of finishing will do most days, but, I won’t lie, that little dopaminic shot of appreciation (Wow! You’re on fire!) is delightful. It makes the quiet work less lonely.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

Nanowrimo: Stop Thinking and Write

Next month I’ll participate in Nanowrimo for a second time. Last year was touch-and-go, especially since I was only home for eleven of the thirty days of November. My biggest challenge, however, was not the writing days I lost to the road, but rather shutting myself up. I’m an editor by trade, so it’s not surprising that I have trouble turning that off. Maybe the best way to shut up the editor is to stop thinking.

I’ll stop thinking . . . soon.

In nine more days, I’ll stop thinking for a few roaring writing minutes a day. In the meantime, I’ll obsess! What to write? A tortured love story?

Just before Terry and Pat forked paths to their cars, they turned to each other, as they had done for 935 days on their way to work: peck on the lips, Have a great day! / You, too! I love you. / Love you too! Today, Pat’s eyes lingered on Terry a little longer, realizing, I don’t, really. I don’t love you. That was the last kiss, the last time they would see each other.

Or maybe a child in a suspense/horror story?

Ophera sat quietly in the back, the mumble of her parents’ conversation indistinguishably mingled with the roar of the engine. Ophera wasn’t sure how she knew, but she knew. She didn’t feel sad. It was the textbook knowing. The first element on the periodic table is hydrogen. Hydrogen and oxygen are the two elements that make water. Her mother’s heart beat 113,889 times a day, but her dad’s 100,352 (on average). The car would veer as it entered the bridge. Moments after plunging into the icy water of the roaring river, her parents’ hearts would stop. Ophera knew hers wouldn’t.

Maybe I should go with SciFi?

Darian shut down thoughts as she pushed her ship to warp speed. No one ever said it, but they all understood. She wouldn’t be back. Even if she managed to find her way back, she wouldn’t find anything or anyone she knew at this station. She closed her eyes through the hum of the changing pressure. Darian knew it was an impossible mission. No one believed she could find the crew that shot through this hole twenty years ago. Darian’s proposal and plea were strong and compelling, finally convincing the commissioners to grant her this last-ditch mission.

Nine more days until Nanowrimo and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Maybe I’ll write about that!

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.

I know nothing.

The stories I want to tell are inevitably intermingled with other lives, lives I don’t truly understand. Honestly, I know nothing I need to know to tell the story well.

The more I know the more I know I know nothing.

I’ve been reading. I’ve been listening. But the more I know, the more I realize I know nothing. Nothing about black lives. Nothing about brown lives. And honestly, not enough about white lives economically, religiously, and politically removed from my experience. The little bit I almost had right is just enough off center to be misleading at best, but mostly, just wrong.

I want to be an advocate and an ally. I want to tell a story. But how to do it well? How do I do it in a way that honors my experience and their truth?

I felt dismay then just as quickly hope when I listened to Justina Ireland weigh in on the controversy surrounding the young adult novel American Heart

Dismay because at first her words seemed to convey that I could never tell a story that included color. But then that nugget of hope:

“If your good intentions fall short of the reality the first time and that just kind of puts you off the sauce, then why were you here in the first place? I mean, if I’m trying to run a marathon, I’m not going to stop because I had one bad run day. It’s a lifetime.”

I’m here in the first place because I want to stand up and use my privilege and voice to connect and encourage empathy. I’m here for the lifetime, for the marathon. I’ll listen harder, lean in deeper. I’ll see myself. I’ll see you. I want to tell our story well.

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.


Prep Work

—I have to do what first?
—The prep work.

Why is prep work important?

When I finally decide to do something, I just want to jump in and get down to . . .

painting the bedroom.
tiling the floor.
planting the garden.

Yet, almost always, just jumping in is not prudent. Sometimes it’s not possible.

prep work

Before painting, clear and wash down the walls, fill the holes, tape the edges and windows, and, unless you’re also replacing the it, protect the floor.
Before tiling, remove the old flooring (even if the last owners didn’t!), then clean, clean, and clean. Over there, clean a little more.
Before planting the garden, pull the weeds, turn the soil, make the rows, and feed the soil.

In school, prep work is attending class, studying for the test, reading before writing a research paper. At work, similar.

But what’s the prep work for creative work?

Sometimes it’s just staring into the space before you. Sometimes it’s getting a good night’s sleep.

Just do it. It nourishes the work you’re about to take on.

Good night! I have prep work to do.

prep work

©Copyright Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved, 2017.