Z is for…Zabuton

A zabuton is a type of meditation cushion. Mine is a flat rectangle that serves as a base for a smaller zafu (a round meditation cushion) or a meditation bench. I’m making it sound like I have a robust, sustained meditation practice. In truth, the cushions get far more use by my cats than by me. But my lackluster meditation practice is perhaps a topic for another day.

I went to a panel at AWP about authors and social media. One panelist made the observation that any work authors do on social media should be to support their writing, not to take the place of it. While I’ve dedicated a bunch of time to the blog this month (and will be scaling back for a time starting tomorrow), my blog – and the  A to Z Challenge in particular – have supported my writing, just as the zabuton acts as a support for meditation:

  • The challenge helped me develop my blogging voice and also spurred me to consider how I continue to develop my own voice as a fiction writer, as well the unique voices of my characters.
  • The challenge provided 26 opportunities to write succinctly and quickly. I’ve already seen this lesson at work in my shorter and longer pieces. When I was working on my fiction this month and laboring over a scene, this was part of my inner chatter: “Get to the point already, Julie.” It was usually good advice.
  • The challenge offered time and space to reflect on – and share – the contours of my writing career as it currently stands, especially in the context of my life. There’s something very powerful about sharing some of my innermost thoughts, fears and hopes for writing with the wider world.
  • The challenge facilitated connections with other bloggers and writers. While I didn’t visit as many blogs as I intended this month, I have the whole list of participating blogs to visit over the coming months. And through the generosity of other bloggers who visited and commented on my posts, I’ve already found several kindred blogging spirits.

Thanks to everyone who made this journey with me, whether you read snippets here or there or if you read every single post. A special thanks to my readers who get new posts delivered to their inbox. That’s a lot of mail from me in the course of one month! Thanks for sticking with it.

I’m off to rest – wishing all of you time and space to reflect on all the things that support your lives, as well as the courage to discern and make necessary changes.

L is for…Learning Curve

Whenever I call myself a writer, I feel a surge of excitement, happiness and contentment. Underneath the feeling of “rightness,” however, there’s a slow-moving mass of uncertainty and doubt. I’ve known about it for a few years, but, like anybody with an internet connection, I pretended it wasn’t there in favor of taking BuzzFeed quizzes. (Daniel Day-Lewis will play me in the movie, I am more Rachel than Monica and yes, I am smarter than a 5th grader, but not by much.)

It wasn’t until I attended a panel at AWP that I had a better sense of the uneasiness and doubt I felt. The panel, “Second Acts: Creative Writing as a Second Career,” featured a panel of wise women, all of whom were coming to writing after successful careers in other fields. I was especially moved and inspired by something author & panelist Bridgett Davis said. She said that second career writers need to be kind to themselves. Allow and honor the fact that you will need years to hone and develop the craft. (And also honor the fact that the craft itself requires years to explore and master.)

She also noted that it’s an adjustment for people who were probably very successful in their first careers. Second career writers often feel like we should be instantly good at writing because we are good at our first career. It’s a psychological leap to go from being at or near the top of a profession to the bottom of another one. We need to carve out the space and time to devote to this new act.

Yes. Exactly. This is why I’ve felt doubt about my writing career. Suddenly I’m on the bottom again, after achieving professional success in my library career. And that’s okay. That was the other big theme that the conference itself reminded me repeatedly – writing takes time. It takes time to write novels, it takes time to build writing communities, it takes time to learn the craft. (And as regular readers know, I wrestle with issues of time a lot.) I’ve felt like I’m behind but really, I’m exactly where I need to be on the learning curve.

G is for…Goals

In addition to being a writer, my dream jobs are backup singer for Bruce Springsteen and/or professional hermit. More on Bruce in a later post – this challenge wouldn’t be complete without an ode to my second husband. (See what I did there?)

I would be a superb hermit. I am an introvert’s introvert. I value long periods of time by myself, pondering the movements and currents of my life. I need the perspective that only comes from stepping back from daily life and examining the causes and conditions that are arising. After I decide if or how I want to vary the course, I make to do lists and intentions and once or twice I’ve written manifestos.

(I’d be an even better full time hermit with Netflix but I’m suspecting some of the nuances of the job would be lost.)

I realized, however, after I talked with my therapist last year, that I’m somewhat passive when it comes to setting goals and making plans. I tend to react to whatever’s arising rather than proactively set goals. I’m not a wallflower – I do make decisions and plans, but I’m not as intentional as I could be about where I want to be and how I want to get there.

So my therapist had me set goals and outline the practices I’d use to reach them. Then she suggested I review my goals and practices once a month and chart the progress I make. So…at the end of every month, I carve out some time and make a pot of tea and review my goals. It’s awesome. Even when I freak out and worry that I’ll never achieve my goals, I have a folder of notes that says at least I’m trying.

I blogged about my goals and practices at the start of the year as New Years Unresolutions.  I’ve modified the goals and practices slightly (I’m all about revisions), so here’s the current list:

Goal: To realize my full potential as a creative writer.

Practices:

  • Taking time to reflect on my life and writing (aka the hermit part)
  • Being intentional about how I spend my time & take care of myself
  • Exploring ways to take risk in my life and writing
  • Living with simplicity by not taking on extraneous projects, attitudes or worries
  • Preserving my autonomy in terms of how I spend my time and the projects I undertake

Are you intentional about your goals? What goals and practices do you prioritize?