My Pandemic Journal – The Creativity Challenge

Do you remember when you were young? Young enough to try anything because you had no idea you could fail? Or you knew you could fail, but you didn’t care?

Too often, we ignore our creative pastimes, our dreams, because we feel we need to focus our energy elsewhere. We give our all to our clients, our families, our friends, and ignore what we need to feel whole, to feel content and at peace.

We all need to take time to recharge. Most of us think this means watching a favorite TV show, going for a hike, or reading a good book. While all these pursuits are wonderful (and even necessary, at times), what we really need is to create.

Why not write a good book, instead of reading one?

Why not stop in the middle of your hike and take a few photographs or take a sketchbook with you and draw some of the beautiful scenery?

Now, you may be thinking, I’m not a writer. I’m not a photographer. I’m not an artist.

But what you should be thinking is maybe I am a writer, a photographer, or an artist. If you haven’t tried, how do you know you’re not?

Last week, I was on a Zoom call with my good friend, Janice Plado Dalager, when we got into a deep discussion about creativity, and how we need to find the time—and give ourselves permission—to work on a creative project that has special meaning to us, whether it adds to our financial bottom line or not.

Janice is this incredibly intuitive individual. She always seems to know what I need to hear, what I need to know, or what I need to learn. During our conversation, she told me she has often thought about writing articles or making videos so she can share with others some of the knowledge she possesses. The one thing stopping her is she isn’t sure she knows enough about a subject to teach it to someone else.

I was amazed that she felt this way. There hasn’t been a lunch date, an email, or a Zoom call where I didn’t learn something from her. At the very least, I would have an ‘ah ha’ moment; a moment where something I had been struggling to understand suddenly came into focus.

That’s Janice’s superpower.

She can sense what someone needs. She will share what she knows or what she has experienced, or she will simply be a cheerleader. Whatever it is, she makes it seems so effortless. It’s what she does.

Everyone needs a Janice.

Even Janice.

So, I have volunteered to support (or, as we have decided to call it, challenge) Janice to write that article or create a video about something she feels will help others. In turn, she has challenged me to take on a project I have been thinking about for years. I’m going to attempt to record one of my novels. Having my books in audio format makes sense and I’ve always wanted to record them myself.

I may discover I’m not any good at it—in other words, I may fail—but I won’t know until I try.

So, what is the creative project you’ve been wanting to take on but have been afraid to try? Picture yourself as a younger you and refuse to let the fear of failure stop you. Give yourself permission to create something incredible.

My Pandemic Journal – June 2, 2020

So far, 2020 has been a wild ride. A ride I’m hoping will end soon.

I had big plans for 2020, as I’m sure a lot of people did. Then a pandemic was thrust upon us and my confidence in the future took a huge hit.

Events I had hoped to attend this year have been canceled. Jobs that would have brought in income have evaporated. On top of all that, someone stole my identity and an individual has been sending me messages to my author email account professing his undying love and calling me his ‘beloved wife.’

I’ve never met the man. And it’s obvious he’s never met me, otherwise I’m sure he would never use the word ‘beloved.’

Despite all this, I decided I was going to use Arizona’s stay-at-home orders to my advantage and finish some big projects. By the end of April, I had published my fourth novel, compiled my first three novels into a special-edition box set, made major changes to my website, and built the Millennium Falcon out of LEGOs.

That last one wasn’t on any to-do list, but I’m still counting it as a major accomplishment.

Unfortunately, May was not as productive as April. I lost my momentum. I lost my focus. Anxiety, and a tad bit of depression, had set in.

I haven’t been able to check off one single item on my May/June to-do list. The list that seemed attainable in April now feels like fantasy—a wish that has little hope of coming true.

(Hmmm…sounds like a pity party to me.)

Upon further reflection of May, it wasn’t all that bad. I may not have crossed anything off my list, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

I had Zoom meetings with a couple of friends, trying to flesh out an idea for a podcast. And I worked with some wonderful people on a three-day, on-site project. Most importantly, I spent a lot of quality time with my son. These things weren’t on my list, but they all meant a great deal to me.

It also makes me realize that instead of trying to work on my fifth novel, which requires a lot of solitary time, what I need right now is to be working with other people. It may be through Zoom or WebEx, but it helps to be communicating and collaborating with others while we wait for things to return to normal (or whatever the “new” normal may be).

So, the first week of June will be spent connecting with friends and colleagues, discovering how we can help each other in this odd and difficult time.

And then, I plan to put my project management skills to use. I mean, I am a certified project manager, after all. I should be able to come up with a reasonable plan to get most of the items on my to-do list done by the end of June.

Which raises the question: Why is it so much easier to do these things for other people? What makes their projects so much more important than mine?

For one thing, managing projects for others pays better.

Or rather, they pay. Period.

But while my projects may not add funds to my bank account (at least not right away), they do add to my self-confidence and my self-worth.

And right now, those things are priceless.

What Do Project Managers and Authors Have in Common?

Project Managers and Authors

Project managers and authors have the same goal in mind – giving their clients/readers what they desire. To do this, PMs and authors need to give the key players in the project/story room to expand and explore.

The author’s job is to give the characters enough leeway to tell the story without allowing them to hijack it, taking it down a different path, turning a short story into an epic novel.

The project manager’s job is to allow their team of creatives to work unhindered, while ensuring they don’t deviate too far from the project plan or turn a simple project into a massive enterprise.

It can be a tough balancing act.

Creative teams shouldn’t be bogged down by the intricacies of managing a project. Creative individuals need room to think, to process, to create.

A project manager’s job is to allow this to happen. To sometimes work in the background, but always remain vigilant to what is happening with the project, stepping in when problems arise or when the team needs a little boost.

While team members can appreciate the job the project manager is doing, they don’t need to be aware of every step the project manager makes to ensure the project remains on track.

Just like with a story, the reader knows it was written by the author, but if the author does the job well, the reader won’t be reminded constantly that the author is there. The story becomes about the characters. An author must know when to lead the characters along the story’s predetermined path and when to let them choose a different course. Allowing the latter can result in a richer, less predictable outcome.

The same goes for a project manager. A PM needs to know when to lead the way and when to step back and observe the project from the sidelines. Allowing team members to deviate from predetermined objectives can lead to more imaginative and innovative deliverables.

Giving the characters/creatives enough room to imagine and explore, allowing them to tell the story, is always the best route.

Don’t Listen to Naysayers

Don’t waste your time listening to naysayers. If anyone tells you you’re not good enough to do or to be something, especially when you haven’t been given the opportunity to try, don’t believe them. You should be the one to decide if you’re good at a task, an activity, or a profession. If you listen to those who say you can’t or say you shouldn’t, you may be faced with regrets later.

We all have enough of our own self-doubts without listening to the doubts of others. And that’s all it is — other people voicing their own doubts and fears. Most of the time, it has nothing to do with us.

My Naysayer Story

It took place in a 4th grade art class. I was nine years old.

We were working on a project that would teach us how to see and understand the correct placement of facial features. We were instructed to find a picture of a human face in a magazine and cut it in half the long way (one eye, half nose, half mouth). We then taped the photo onto a larger piece of paper, leaving enough room to draw the missing half of the face. Hopefully, by the time we were done the drawn portion would resemble the piece that had been cut away.

Until that day, I had shied away from drawing faces. I loved drawing mountains, flowers, cacti, but avoided drawing eyes and noses.

But this was a project for a grade and I gave it my best shot. Surprisingly, I liked what I had done. It wasn’t perfect and based on what some of my classmates had created, I knew I had a lot to learn.

Not a problem! It was my first try.

I remember the teacher walking around the room helping each student, showing them how to improve their artwork. I waited patiently for it to be my turn to receive some direction.

I knew the nose wasn’t quite right. The eye wasn’t right either. And the hair — we won’t even talk about the hair. But I was really proud of what I had done and was looking forward to making it better.

Finally, it was my turn. The teacher was standing behind me and I looked up at her, excited and anxious, waiting for her to give me a pointer or two. Instead, she shook her head and said, “You’ll never be an artist,” and walked away.

I was crushed. I was nine years old and I was crushed.

After that day, I gave up drawing.

I never told my parents what the teacher had said to me. I never told anyone. I was too humiliated.

Off to College

Years later when I went off to college, I enrolled in an engineering program. Since I loved math, it seemed like a logical choice. I was doing pretty well until I discovered a freehand drawing course was a requirement.

I spent the next few days trying to decide what to do. The only way to avoid taking the class was to change my major. That seemed a bit extreme. It was just one class. Besides, a little humiliation wasn’t going to kill me.

It would just feel that way.

The first session of freehand drawing brought equal amounts of elation and frustration.

Elation arrived when the instructor told us she believed she could teach anyone to draw. The only requirement was a desire to learn.

I had the desire but I also had my doubts. Hadn’t I already been told I would never be an artist?

Frustration came when we were tasked with drawing four items — a chair, a table, a computer, and the face of one of our classmates.

No! Not a face!

I completed the assignment but wasn’t impressed with the results. Each one looked like it had been drawn by a child.

A nine-year-old to be exact, since that’s how old I was when I gave up drawing.

The good news is, I ended up loving the class. I enjoyed how the instructor taught us how to ‘see’ in a different way. Instead of simply seeing a building, I was noticing the lines, contours, and negative space; drawing each element until, like magic, the building appeared. It was amazing! I spent hours drawing everyday objects that were now anything but ordinary. For me, it was better than meditating.

The End of Class

The final day of class, we were tasked with drawing the same four items we had completed on day one. The instructor had kept the original illustrations with the intent of mailing them to us, along with the drawings from the final night so we could compare them and see for ourselves how we had grown as artists.

A couple of weeks later, I received a large manila envelope in the mail.

My drawings.

I opened it carefully, not sure I wanted to see them, afraid I hadn’t learned as much as I had hoped. In that oversized envelope was proof, one way or the other.

After comparing the two sets of drawings, I was stunned. I couldn’t believe the difference. I couldn’t believe how my skills had advanced in such a short period of time.

Here’s the most surprising part — I dropped out of the engineering program.

After successfully completing the freehand drawing course, I changed my major to Visual Communications. I took classes in Typography, Illustration, Photostyling, and Graphic Design. I hung out with artists and graduated with a 4.06 GPA.

And yet, I could still hear that 4th grade art teacher telling me I would never be an artist.

Years Later

After several years as a Graphic Designer, I found myself in the role of single parent. In order to make more money, I went back to school and earned a degree in Technical Management. A project management certification followed soon after.

I don’t regret making this decision, but I do regret abandoning my artistic pursuits. I should have found time to draw, at least as a hobby, but I was still hearing that voice saying I didn’t possess the talent.

Today, my son is in college – taking art classes. I told him a long time ago not to listen to anyone who says he’s not an artist. He is very talented, and to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever said he isn’t.  

A few days ago, we made a trip to the art supply store, one of our favorite outings. While surrounded by pencils, markers, pastels, and every type of drawing paper imaginable, I was inspired to give drawing another try.

This time, I’m not going to listen to the voice that says I can’t do it. I have wasted too many years listening to, and worrying about, the opinions of others.

I’m finally done listening to naysayers.

ACTION: The Killer of Self-Doubt

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ACTION: The Killer of Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is a beast. It sneaks up behind us, hijacks our thoughts, and tells us things we would never say to a friend or a loved one.

What’s worse, we believe all the terrible things self-doubt tells us. We believe we can’t write. We believe we’re not good enough to go for that new job. We believe we can’t run that marathon because we’re too out of shape to make it to the finish line.

Self-doubt keeps us from trying the things we’ve always wanted to do. The question is, why do we allow this?

Because for some reason, it’s easier to believe we can’t than to believe we can. It’s easier to give up on a dream than to put in the effort to make it come true. It requires us to go up against self-doubt. It’s a battle. But it’s one we can win. All we have to do is act.

Action kills self-doubt.

Okay, it may not actually kill it, but it can silence it for a while. Long enough for us to work on our dreams.

A Writer’s Struggle

Many people have told me that they’ve always wanted to write a book. When I ask why they haven’t done it yet, I hear all kinds of excuses.

I don’t have the time right now.

I’ll get around to it after the kids go off to college.

It’s something I plan to do once I retire.

I’ve heard these excuses many times. I’ve used these excuses myself. In my case, I know they’re not true.

I know it’s self-doubt paying a visit.

I have self-doubt every time I begin to write. Every time I begin a new book. Every time I begin a new chapter. Every time I begin a new sentence.

Self-doubt is always there, lurking in the dark, ready to attack.

I have written and self-published three novels and I’m in the process of writing two more, and it’s happening again. Self-doubt is in my head, saying things like:

What makes you think you can write?

No one is going to want to read this.

What you just wrote makes absolutely no sense.

After I finished my first book, I thought it would get easier. But now that I’ve finished three, I know it doesn’t. Each book has a unique story, one I’ve never told before, and because it’s new and different, my self-confidence takes a hit.

And more questions arise:

Will the story make sense?

Do the characters work well together?

Is there enough imagination left in me for another book?

I eventually get past this stage and write for several days, sometimes weeks before self-doubt makes another appearance. The mere act of writing keeps self-doubt at bay. But when I take a break from writing, self-doubt shows up again and I have a strong urge to give up.

But somehow, I press on and finish writing the book.

Then comes the pure joy of editing. This is when self-doubt cranks up the heat.

Sometimes, I’ll read one of my chapters and think, That’s not bad.

But more often, I’ll read a chapter and think, This is garbage.

I wish I could say these varying thoughts have to do with my mood, but they can occur within minutes of each other. One minute, I think what I’ve written is pure gold. The next, I think it resembles something the cat coughed up.

Once again, I feel like giving up.

When I get to this point, and I begin to feel like it’s not worth the effort, I remember that even well-known authors — the greats and the most prolific — often suffer from self-doubt.

So, what I’m feeling is nothing new. It’s not just me. It’s every writer. And it’s not just writers. It’s anyone who decides to move beyond their comfort zone and work on a dream.

I’ve heard some great creatives say that if you’re not feeling fear, you’re not pushing yourself. Not feeling fear means you’ve become stagnate, with no new thoughts or originality finding their way into your work and your life. If you’re not feeling any fear, you’re not doing anything new and exciting.

This is true. When I’m not feeling any fear, boredom sets in. This is when I feel the urge to try something new. This is also when self-doubt makes another appearance.

I don’t like fear and self-doubt. No one does. But this is the process. If there wasn’t any doubt or fear, then finishing a book — or any other activity — wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling.

There are just times when I want it to be less of a struggle. I relish the days when the words pour out, when my fingers are flying across the keyboard, capturing all the words that are in my head and getting them on the page.

I know writing is not an easy task, and I accept that. I would just like to have more days where the words flow like water and self-doubt takes a back seat.

Truth is, these moments can occur more often than they do. All it takes is sitting down and getting the job done. Self-doubt can be silenced with action.

What’s Stopping You?

If you’re waiting for self-doubt to go away, forget it! It’s not going anywhere. You just have to find a way to distract it long enough to finish your book, go after the new job, or run that marathon.

We may not be able to kill self-doubt, but with action, we can silence it.

At least for a little while.

How Do YOU Find “Me” Time?

In early February, I began waking up at 5am to head to the gym for a workout. I had my doubts that I would be able to maintain that schedule, having been a night owl my entire life, but I’m happy to say, it’s now my routine. In fact, I am getting up at 4:30 so I can be out the door by 5:00. This way I have plenty of time to prepare for the crazy day I know is on the horizon.

It took a while to get used to the routine. I started with just two days a week, then three. Now I’m consistently doing four days a week and have been for the past month. I am amazed that I have been able to stick to this schedule. That I, someone who detests routine, someone who usually “wings it” and deals with things as they come, can stick to getting up at the same time every day and get to the gym four weekdays out of five. Wow!

But I soon realized it wasn’t just me who had to adjust to this new schedule. My dog – a big, furry, German Shepard mix named Pancha – was used to me staying up late. I would let her outside around midnight to take care of business one last time before going to bed. The first couple of weeks of my earlier bedtime had some major drawbacks. Around midnight every night I would hear Pancha whining outside my bedroom door or she would somehow open my door and stand near my bed and stare at me until I woke up.

Not good!

So now I make sure I let her out around 9:30 or 10:00 so I don’t get a wake-up whine (or stare) in the middle of the night. At first, she didn’t like being forced to go outside, but she has reluctantly relented to the new routine.

Problem solved. All is good.

Almost.

I’m still struggling with finding the best time to do my writing. I know most writers say to just fit it in where you can – ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there. Writers with busy lives need to work it in whenever possible.

I get that. And, for the most part, this advice makes sense. But I need more. I need to have at least an hour (preferably two) of uninterrupted writing time to feel like I have accomplished something. Anything less, and I feel like I’ve failed.

The solution to this problem is to figure out where to fit it in. I have the “few minutes here, a few minutes there” down pat. I have notepads in my purse, my car, on the nightstand, in the kitchen – in all the places where I sometimes find a glimmer of inspiration. I have this covered.

It’s the glorious hour or two-hour block of time that I’m missing. I used to find it late at night after everyone else had gone to bed. But now that my bedtime is two hours earlier, that time frame is no longer available.

If I have learned anything from my workout resolution, it’s that I just need to select a time that works for me and then train everyone (including the dog) to not interrupt me during this time.

Easier said than done but not impossible.

The hardest one to train is the woman who hates strict schedules and routines but needs a strict schedule and routine. Otherwise, she may never finish her next book. (Heavy sigh!)

If anyone out there has some tips and tricks for finding “me” time, please share them. I would love to hear about the creative techniques you use to get things done. Leave a comment and let’s discuss.

Until next time…keep creating!

Stephen Hawking And Not Giving Up

Yesterday, on Pi Day and Albert Einstein’s birthday, the world lost a brilliant mind. Stephen Hawking died in the early hours at the age of 76.

Can anyone imagine what it would be like if he had succumbed to ALS just two years after being diagnosed as doctors had predicted? We were fortunate to have him on this plant for an additional fifty-five years. Fifty-five years in which he contributed so much to science.

Just a month ago I picked up a copy of Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, at a used book sale. I didn’t go there to purchase that specific book nor was a looking for it. It just seemed to leap out at me from a table after I wandered, on purpose, into the astronomy section.

I had read the book many years ago and I’m not sure why I felt compelled to buy it on that day, but I did, along with two other books from the astronomy section, a couple of novels, and a collection of short stories by Mark Twain.

It was Hawking’s book I placed on top of the stack, planning to get to it when I had a few minutes to read.

It wasn’t until I heard about Hawking’s passing that I picked it up. I tried to read the first chapter, but I had trouble concentrating. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things he had accomplished in his life, even with all the obstacles put in his way. (Or perhaps because of those obstacles.)

And then I thought about my life. There are so many things I haven’t accomplished, and the only obstacles in my way right now are the ones I have put there. So many questions came to my mind. Am I living up to my full potential? Is my life everything I want it to be? Am I letting fear get in my way of doing the things I want to do?

Each day I hear someone tell me how hard I work and how much I have accomplished. I do work hard, but I know I can do so much more.

Lately, my days have been spent helping others with their projects, tasks, or goals. Not that this is bad. I enjoy helping others. It makes me feel good knowing the work I do helps others with their careers or helps them solve a problem. At the end of the day, I feel satisfied.

But helping others often means my own projects are put on the back burner. I should be able to find the time to work on my latest novel or take the next steps to get my new business off the ground. But I hesitate. I know what needs to be done but I worry that I’m wrong or that I will fail.

But is failure really a bad thing? Failing means I at least tried.

As I was preparing to write this article, I came across this quote from Stephen Hawking:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

He was an incredibly smart man. I would be crazy not to take his advice.

 

More on Fear…

In my last blog post, I wrote about fear and how we tend to put things off for fear of looking inept or foolish. When it comes to writing, we are often afraid people will hate what we have spent months, possibly years, creating. We worry that what we have written won’t make any sense. We’re afraid of someone pointing out a misspelled word or a missing comma.

But just as there will be people who won’t like what we have created, there will be people who will love it. This is what we need to keep in mind. We need to forge ahead and create our works of art for those who will enjoy them. More importantly, we need to create for ourselves.

Joanna Penn, of TheCreativePenn.com, put it more eloquently in her recent YouTube video, Fear of Judgement. She pointed out that even our own families may not like, or even understand, the things we create. And that’s okay. They aren’t judging us, they just simply have different interests, different tastes, different likes and dislikes. It’s natural. It’s normal.

Joanna goes on to say that most of her friends and family have not read her books and she probably wouldn’t want them to. Her books show a different side of her, a darker side, that friends and family may not relate to or fully understand.

I get that.

I also have friends and family members who have not read my books. Some don’t like reading mystery novels (my preferred genre). Some just don’t like to read. (Something I really don’t understand!) Some may be afraid they won’t like my books, so they avoid reading them. And then there are those who simply don’t have the time. All valid reasons and all reasons why I shouldn’t take it personally.

And I try not to.

But even though I know I can’t please everyone with my writing, I sometimes leave things out just because I worry about what people will think. Will what I write offend someone? Will the meaning be lost or misinterpreted?

The truth is, if I leave things out, the meaning I had set out to convey has already been lost. My holding back will not do anyone any good – me or the reader.

In her video, Joanna states how writing is “powerful and healthy” and has many psychological benefits. If you are having doubts about your writing, or any other creative project, I highly recommend watching Joanna’s video. It may be just what you need to get over the hurdle.

Until next time…keep creating!

 

Writing Is Like Going to the Gym

Woman on treadmillI have always wanted to go to a gym and work out, but I could never find the time to do it. Just like writing, I want to do more but can’t seem to find the time.

I have always maintained there aren’t enough hours in the day for a full-time job, a family, friends, AND going to the gym. Most experts assert it is best to exercise first thing in the morning because the chances of getting in a workout later in the day are slim. After putting in a long day of work, the last thing most people want to do is head to the gym.

I was one of those people. By the end of the work day, I was too exhausted to think about anything except dinner and relaxing in front of the TV.

It doesn’t help that I’m not a morning person. I’m a night owl. I enjoy being up after everyone else in the house has gone to bed and the house is quiet. The problem with this is I would get out of bed the next day with just enough time to get to work. No time for exercise. No siree!

But a funny thing happened a few weeks ago. I discovered it’s not impossible for a self-proclaimed night owl to get up before sunrise and head to the gym. I’m now into week four and I’m proud to say I’m enjoying it. I even look forward to heading out while it’s still dark – and quiet. The best part is, I feel great!

Another benefit of working out is I have time to think. Time to come up with ideas to write about. Time to think creatively.

Time for epiphanies.

While on the treadmill one morning, it dawned on me that finding time to exercise was never the problem. The problem was getting over the fear.

I finally admitted to myself that I was afraid. I was afraid of looking like I didn’t know what I was doing (which I didn’t). I was afraid of falling off the treadmill (yes, I’m a klutz!) in front of other people. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get up before dawn day after day. To put it simply, I was afraid of failing.

I’m past the fear now. I feel comfortable with my new exercise routine and I’m no longer afraid I can’t do it.

Problem solved.

Now onto the next one. When do I find time to write?

I haven’t been doing enough writing lately. It seems there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. I’ve been reading about how other authors find time to fit writing into their busy schedules. Just like with exercising, it’s all about finding the right time to do it.

Or is it? (Here comes another epiphany.)

Could it be fear that is keeping me from writing? Just as it kept me from going to the gym?

No, it can’t be fear. I’ve already published two books and I’m almost done writing the third. How can it be fear?

The key word is almost. I’m ALMOST done with the third book. I’m at that stage where my writing needs some polishing and there are gaps in the story that need to be filled. This is the part that causes me the most grief. Sometimes, I just don’t know what is needed to complete the story and I worry I’ll never be able to figure it out.

Fear.

I have the fear of getting it wrong. Fear of not choosing the right words to get my meaning across. Fear of my characters behaving inconsistently.

Fear of readers hating it.

But just as I didn’t let fear continue to get in the way of my workouts, I can’t let fear stand in the way of my writing. I have to write. It’s a big part of who I am. I realize the fear may never go away completely, but it should diminish over time. It should at least get easier to ignore.

I just need to keep in mind all the positives of writing, just as there are positives of exercising. There is a strong sense of accomplishment with both activities. Finishing my third book will lead to the thrill of having another book published. Another book I can call my own. One more thing I can say I have accomplished

I just need to get past the fear.

Desert Deception - Short Story Cover