I was rushing, I should not have been but I was. Mat and I were fighting about something unimportant, so I was angry too. I stormed into the bathroom to grab one last thing before we left the house. For a split second I noticed that the floor was very wet from the leaking shower and then it happened. I slipped. It was exactly the way a cartoon character would go down, legs fly out from under her, so that the whole body is suspended horizontally in mid-air for a few seconds and then everything comes crushing down, in my case on my elbow.
I screamed out in pain and immediately began crying. Even though he was probably still angry with me, Mat rushed over from the kitchen as soon as he’d heard the crash. He crouched down behind me & put his hands on my shoulders,
“Oh zz, are you ok? What happened?”
“No! That. Really. Hurt.”
I was beside myself, holding my elbow, rocking myself to self-sooth.
“You poor thing. Can you get up?”
I shook my head, no. I could not get up.
Getting up would mean:
- I would have to concede that while I was hurt I was not maimed or somehow incapacitated, meaning I would have to continue as normal people do, and maybe no-one would ever know that I had been hurt. That I was still hurt.
- I would need to change my pants & possibly my top too because I had been sitting in cold shower water.
- I was very much enjoying the sympathy, and perhaps if I was not mistaken a hint of guilt coming from this man crouching in the dark behind me, because in some small and inexplicable way I’d decided that he did this to me.
- Why the hell should I get up anyway? Why is that the first question he asks, or the third, or whatever? No I will not get up.
He was breathing in my hair because I was still crying. He put his arms around me & gave me a little squeeze.
“Okay, baby. Okay, let’s get up.”
I nod my head and he helps me to my feet.
“Slowly, there’s a lot of water.”
I knew that.
Then I was facing him. He had his arms around me and I cried on his shoulder. He rubbed my back as I made my lament. After a while he leaned done and whispered:
I mumbled into he shoulder to show I could hear him.
“I know you’re hurt, & you’re still upset, but… I can’t see a single tear coming from those beautiful eyes.”
I peeped up at his face from my place on his shoulder and he peeped down at me with a smile & a glint of mischief in his eyes.
“You’re just like one of the Kindergarten girls when they get hurt.”
I could feel a laugh rising warm and familiar between us, but I was not ready to be happy again. Not yet. He just smiled & waited, because even though my face was still contorted with ugly feelings and even though I was still subliminally blaming him and the rest of the planet for my current mishap and perhaps my woes in general, he knew I was on my way back. Cause I’m the comeback kid.
Getting up really meant:
- I conceded a brief defeat, yes I got hurt – that happens sometimes. I’ll be ok, even if no-one sympathises, I’m getting ready to go again.
- I get to change my pants & top, they are so last season anyway.
- It’s nobody’s fault, people are involved sometimes, but life happens & the more responsibility I can take for where I landed, the more power I have to change things.
- Can I get up? Will I get up? Sometimes I can’t, I sometimes won’t. Today I will.
So I let the laughter come, even as I clutched my wounded elbow & my wounded ego. We stood in the dark, in the puddle of cold shower water, laughing at his little joke, laughing at me and suddenly nothing seemed important enough to loose one tear over. My spirit wasn’t harmed, there was life left in me, I could tell by all the living sounds that were coming out of my mouth.
A wounded ego is worse than the actual wound ever was, but a wounded spirit will kill a person. I am the only person who can let my own spirit go down, but I won’t let it stay down, because I am the freaking comeback queen.
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A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a pearl ring. Wait let me say that again.
A couple of weeks ago a friend gave me a glorious, HUGE, luminous, flawless South Sea Pearl Ring. It is one of the most extravagant gifts I’ve ever received and I still can’t believe it’s sitting on my finger. As I stare into the lustrous surface (and I do mean INTO it, it’s so deep it’s like looking into the future) I can’t help but feel a little giddy and also totally humbled by the good people and good things that have snuck into my life while I was sweating all the small stuff.
Only a few days before I was hanging out my washing and looking into my past, getting reflective about my 20s. I’ve somehow found myself smack bang in the middle of my 29th year and i don’t know how i feel about that. Honestly, I’ve been strung out about the big 3-0 coming up next year. I feel like there’s so much to do & I want more time.
I had to make so many important decisions in my 20s, many of which I did not feel qualified to make at the time. University degrees, career, boyfriend, husband, church ministry commitments, leadership, creative pursuits… I can’t help but wonder, did I do the right things with my 20s? Did I do enough with what I had? Did I waste time and effort and emotion on pointless stuff?!
I probably cared too much about what others thought of me at the beginning of the last decade. I probably got my knickers in a knot more than was absolutely necessary. I probably worked too hard at stupid stuff and too little on the important things. But as I did the most mundane of things (hanging out the washing) I had a moment of clarity.
I invested my 20s. I invested them into things I thought were right at the time. I made the best decisions I could with the circumstances and information I had. The time I spent in the writing cave, the times I endured, the times I choose to believe the best in others, the times I refused to let bitterness and disappointment take root, the times I worked at the things that I sucked at – it was my little investment into other people, into making my corner of the world a little better (somehow), into myself. Was I always smiling about it? >>> Not really. Was I miserable? >>>No. Would I do things differently?>>> Well I want to say yes, but I think the only thing I’d do differently is DO MORE STUFF, which may not be that smart anyway. Some things can’t be rushed. Some things only come with time and when they do come they’re worth that wait.
So in the spirit of notes to self, I’m penning 20-something notes to 20-something year old me.
- Be brave and make the decision you have the slightest inkling to make.
- Making mistakes is part of the game, just roll with the punches.
- Apparently your brain “sets” neurologically at age 26. Meaning that neurological pathways will become more set (the things you do habitually will become set, the things you don’t do enough of will be cut). Now is the best time to quit doing stupid stuff and practice the stuff you want to keep as habits. Also remember that what we know about the human brain is evolving, so as long as you’re using it you’re on the right track.
- You twenties are the best time to begin refining and working at mastery. Challenge yourself.
- Your flaws and foibles make you unique & human & relatable & loveable even. Don’t be afraid to let it all hung out sometimes – it’s refreshing in a world full of fakers.
- Learn to ask good questions and you’ll start to see the world in technicolour!
- Being a good friend is not easy nor is it something that comes naturally. Work at it.
- You can’t change another human being – but you don’t have to give up on humanity just because some people suck.
- Sometimes a really good cry and a lie down can fix everything.
- Do not let another person treat you as common. Friend, boyfriend, colleague, acquaintance, whatever – sorry but ain’t nobody got time fo dat.
- Breath deeply.
- Pay attention to what’s going on inside of you.
- There will be superiors in your life who frustrate you & who make your job harder than it needs to be. Learn to work with them & to respect & honour them – you’re no good for anything if you can only work well in ideal circumstances & if you consistently bail when challenged.
- Do yourself a favour and develop a habit of exercise. Your thighs will thank you for this. So will your heart and your emotional well being.
- Routine is your friend. Build routines and you half the amount of effort and mental space that goes into things that you have to do anyway – washing, cleaning, writing, creating, regular work tasks, exercise. Autopilot that crap, STAT.
- SPF 15 on your face all the time. Be as stingy as you want with everything except face lotions.
- Buy property as soon as possible. Just the discipline of saving for a deposit is transformative.
- Don’t settle for average in your career, think about what makes you happy and do whatever you can to start doing more of that. You don’t have to turn every passion into a career, but make time for those things that make you come alive.
- Take the pay cut and change careers if you know it’s what you want to do with you life. Even if you’re not so sure about it, if the thing you are currently doing is meh, BAIL as soon as you possibly can!
- Don’t hate the haters, beat them. Oh and be kind to them, it drives them nuts.
- Only marry someone you are confident you can talk to about anything. If that person is a good friend and if that person makes you laugh, never ever let them go!
- Don’t marry someone who consistently walks away from a fight or who is not as interested in your dreams as he is in his own.
- Don’t let a day go by without laughter.
- Frustration is a good thing, you’re on the right track.
A pearl now seems like the perfect “just because” gift to a 29 year old. Diamonds are formed under intense pressure, pearls are formed out of frustration or irritation. I’ve been pretty frustrated throughout my 20s, but I’m counting on all of that energy creating more beautiful pearls in my life.
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I have a hate-hate relationship with exercise. Actually not true, when I’ve got a routine, I love it. Blood and endorphins pumping, feeling all sexy and stuff – it’s amazing. But when I’m out of routine… it’s hell. Like everyone, my reason for not getting enough exercise is “I’m busy.” The real reason is, it’s not a priority. What are my priorities then? Basically it goes like this.
- Every other imaginable thing other than exercise
May was full and fun, but it started off rocky in the exercise habit forming department. I didn’t have a plan or much of a routine. I began by committing to two “activities” (as a I fondly call them) per week. But my “activities” were not particularly challenging and did not exactly get me sweating or feeling inspired – walking to the coffee shop counts as exercise right? I desperately needed motivation to actually put effort into making a difference to my very sedentary life. I needed a goal to work toward, something that would scare me into action. Thanks to the subtle encouragement of my inspiring marathon running husband, that goal is now to complete a half marathon this year.
Once I had the goal, I rallied some friends to join in with me, because a problem shared is a problem halved…I chose three friends, each for different reasons.
The Truth Teller. I chose her because we are brutally honest with each other – she doesn’t take my crap excuses and I don’t take hers – it’s a beautiful thing. Reality is, she’s the one who would know about it all anyway, so I figured, why not get her doing it with me?
The Exciting One. I chose her (or she chose me, depending on how you look at it) because she’s the one who makes everything a party. She’s the one who makes you feel like what ever you are currently doing with her is the most important, wonderful and hilarious thing possible. Very important when what you’re doing is actually quite awful.
The Fit One. I chose her because she’s already fit and disciplined in this area and I would feel slightly intimidated by her skills if she wasn’t so gracious and sweet. She’s the one I’ve got to keep make sure I can keep up with!
We keep track of our progress (and each other’s) through a running app. Just this little thing got me running more and for longer. It also got me thinking about how much I challenge myself to go faster and harder. I’ve learned that I’m not that competitive with others, but I can be very competitive with myself. The app breaks down my pace by kilometre so I can see when I slack off and when I’m going strong. I’ve started to realise that my pace or effort is something I can adjust – I can work harder and I can go faster than I think I can.
I used to run a lot in the past, but I’ve been out of the habit, so it’s not been easy getting back into it (especially on frigid winter mornings), so I made another commitment to help me get to my goal of running a half marathon… Bootcamp. As I write this, my arms are literally burning from a class TWO days ago. My body is in total SHOCK! I’ve got eight weeks of 5am workouts and long runs on the weekend and I’m actually really scared about it all! But I feel good about the decisions I’ve been making.
I have some weight I want to lose and I have some clothes I want to feel better in, but I feel like my real goal is to have an active lifestyle which challenges me mentally and physically and benefits my health long term. I don’t know what that looks like yet, (gym memberships? mix of classes? running? annual physical challenges? and oh my gosh diet? ) but I’m excited to find out.
- May felt like a journey or a process rather than a solid habit building time. Maybe that’s part of habit building, going though the process of discovering where you’re at and understanding why you want to make changes.
- Realising that the amount of effort I put in effects my results. I can go for a run and feel nothing because I didn’t push myself to go harder than I’m used to. I can even go to bootcamp and see no change unless I push myself as hard as I can go, rather than do what I think is acceptable.
- Having goals is important, when it comes to exercise – but it needs to be about more than what I weigh or my dress size. For me it has to be about my lifestyle and figuring out a long term plan or I’ll just peak and bail in 3 – 6 months time. I’m still working this stuff out, so please give me your suggestions if you have any!
- Getting the help of friends makes a big difference when you’re weak in an area. Real friends google all the worst things that could happen to people who run half marathons together, they cheer each others wins and challenge each other when it’s needed.
- Technology is the shiznick! Runkeeper and Breeze are two beautiful apps which help me to keep track of my runs and my daily steps (aiming for 10, 000/ day). I tried using a calorie counter app, but it bored me to tears (literally, I cried about it), so I still need to work out the diet side of things. But let’s just take a moment to be grateful for the amount of apps, ebooks, videos, gadgets, cookbooks etc out there designed specifically to help people like us build healthier lifestyles.
I feel pretty vulnerable about sharing this area of my life, because I’m not good at this stuff and I don’t know if I’ll get to the half marathon or see changes in my body or make those long term changes to my lifestyle, but I’m putting my trust in the process and I’m showing up.
June’s habit: Plan meals
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I have a confession. I feel afraid most days.
Afraid of making the wrong decision. Afraid of losing, getting in trouble, making mistakes, being taken advantage of, not having enough, too many options, being caught out, missing out. Afraid of failure.
Worse still, I insist of doing stupid things that are not very safe, which takes the whole experience to FEAR³: heart racing, stomach churning stuff.
For example last month (May 2014), I achieved two significant goals which mean a lot to me: completing a draft of my manuscript to submit to a literary agent and starting a small business selling leather bags and purses. Oh yeah, it sounds so fun and rewarding, but the reality is that it’s months and years of preparation and small steps. Then one day you put it out there and you experience the briefest moment of pure joy as it comes out of your secret place and into the world.
But, after all that hard work, all that dreaming and planning and scheming you realise, you’re only getting started. All you’ve done is give birth, now the real work begins! These metaphorical babies, which take form as novels and small business ideas and community ideas and creative endeavours burst forth (sorry for the visual) and they scream for attention and coo sweetly and spew on us occasionally. At times we recognise they have a face only a mother could love, but love them we do. And all the while as we learn to nurture and develop them, we feel like – please God, don’t let anything bad happen to this thing on my watch!
Here’s a little insight into two of my babies.
Last August (2013), I went on a short trip to Manila, Philippines to do some volunteer work in a slum area. It was overwhelming and exhausting, but the people from this community are amazing. They are some of the most generous, lively and hilarious people I know. More than anyone, the children captivated me. In particular, four cheeky, resourceful siblings named Angelo, Jonjon, Daidai and Dodong. While we were there, my church Pastor joined our team for a few days and asked me in passing if I’d been writing a lot while we were there. I was dumbstruck by the question, because I hadn’t even thought about writing.
So that night I sat on my hotel bed, pulled out my journal and began to write. Three weeks after returning to Sydney, I’d written 40 chapter summaries and 20 000 words based on four little characters called Angelo, Jonjon, Daidai and Dodong. Somewhere around that time I was approached by a reputable literary agent, who’d read one of my published short stories and invited me to submit a novel. As you can imagine I took to the task of finishing my manuscript like a mad woman and by May 2014 (9 months later – how quaint) I had an 80 000 word second draft. It wasn’t polished and there is so much more I want to do with it, but I felt like it was the right time to submit the manuscript as is. So I did.
The zz+me business
I’d been thinking about doing something with leather pouches and purses for several years, but never really got around to doing anything with my abstract thoughts about a business. Then in January this year I sourced an excellent leather manufacturer, pulled together a few simple designs and kicked off the beginnings of a little leather online shopping business. It wasn’t any more complicated than that. I wouldn’t say that I had some big dream about starting a small business, which is probably why I didn’t overthink it. I just love leather products and could never find what I wanted for a reasonable price. So I figured if I could get what I like made, maybe a few of my friends might like them too and maybe I could work out how to run a business as I go?!
I’ve been fortunate in having these (and many other) opportunities come into my life – but I truly believe that opportunities are everywhere, available to everyone. I just think some of us are more open to them. There are some people who are so caught up in the junk of life, the dross and the drama that their eyes may as well be closed because their hearts and minds can’t perceive what’s right in front of them. Then there are also those who can clearly see opportunities, but are too afraid to grab them.
I fall into the second category, but lately I’ve been learning to ignore the fear and do it anyway. I used to think there’d be this magical moment when you started to feel like a competent adult, someone able to make responsible decisions and do really important things like parent a child. But what I’m learning from my own experience and from observing my brave friends caring for their beautiful healthy human babies is that none of us know what the heck we’re doing and we’re never EVER going to be ready when the baby, business, opportunity arrives.
So we do these stupid things which seemed like a great idea at some stage, maybe when the adrenaline and the euphoria of a new idea cuts into our world like a shard of light in a dark place. We take the leap of faith and then discover we must continue to do it afraid long after we thought we’d be past that. But I think there are worse things in life that having moments of intense fear. Worse things like wondering what if I HAD done it? Worse things like regret or seeing your good idea take off in someone else’s life. All I know is I’m closer to the life I want to live when I’m on that edge than when I’m playing it safe. Every day that I am afraid is a day that I am alive.
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What the heck happened to May 2014?!?!?!
Okay, so it’s high time I dredge up the memories of waking early for April’s habit.
I’m already a pretty early riser – between 6:30am and 7:30am is a good zone for me, so for April I wanted to challenge myself and push for a consistent 5am wake up call, seven days a week. I wanted to cultivate this habit of waking early because:
- I feel like I’m most productive and creative in the morning. I generally peak by 3pm and then it’s hard going to get through to 5pm. At work I’m often reduced to filing emails and lame admin tasks after 3. On my writing day, I find myself lured into the abyss of YouTube or (ironically) productivity articles on the internet after 3.
- Waking extra early gives me the option of carving out time to exercise or just be outside.
- Early mornings are incredibly quiet and peaceful, so it’ s lovely time to reflect, read some scripture and pray.
Here’s what I learned.
1. Sometimes 5 o’ clock in the morning really sucks. It hurts and your home can start playing tricks on you, such as making everything fair game for the stubbing of toes and making door frames more attractive to shoulders and boobs, which you are constantly smacking into them.
2. In order to actually wake up at 5am you need to literally jump out of bed as soon as your alarm goes off. If you touch that snooze button you’ll be stuck in that snooze cycle for around one to two hours before you come to terms with having to get out of bed.
3. The best thing to do at 5am is have a cup of green tea. Due your home becoming your arch nemesis at this hour of the day, it’s best find a comfy seat and sip a hot cup of tea as you gradually wake up.
4. Early mornings give you time to stroll and just BE outside. The times I left the house before 7am I found time to walk down to the beach to breath in the ocean and the sunrise. I never really realised before just how different every single sunrise is, it’s quite miraculous if you’re paying attention.
5. Writing before 11am – HOLY SMOKES! On my writing day I could sit in my favourite cafe from 6am to 11am with out a break, without even realising how many hours I’d been writing for. By 2pm I’m pretty fried, but by then I’ve done a whole day’s work, so I don’t feel bad about breaking for the day. Shazam! Kowabunga dudes. (Yeah, mmkay whatever.) (Oh here’s where I confess that often I use my “break” to finally shower and eat cereal for lunch. Don’t judge.)
Early mornings are a good time to be alive, to do creative work, go for a jog or to just sit quietly. It’s a bonus in your day so use it for what you really want or really need. Also, going to bed early is really really important if you want to sustain an early morning lifestyle.
May’s habit: Exercise
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A friend once said to me,
“You are the most interested person I know.”
Yeah, he said interested. And I thought it was the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.
We spend our lives trying really hard to be interesting, but how much effort do we put into being interested? We work so hard to come up with creative, genius ideas that stun the world, but how much time do we spend asking questions?
They say curiosity killed the cat, and I think they were right. Curiosity is murder. It will kill creative block, it will take you deeper to the heart of things, at times it will irritate you and the people around you. However, if we want to develop, grow and expand, curiosity has to remain a constant in our lives.
How to be more curious.
1. Be naive
Assuming that you know how it is, is the quickest way to stifle new ideas and ways of thinking. Being naive means you have something to learn. It means you have hope in better ways of doing things. Experience and disappointment cause so many of us to be callous and closed. You know the kind. The ones who always say, “I’ve tried that before.” “I’ve heard that before.” “We’ve done this a million times.” “That won’t work.” “There’s no point.” “I can’t do this any more.” Oops, wait did these words come out of your mouth and mine this week or about five minutes ago? No offense.
No wait, yes offense! We should be offended because we have offended a precious thing called hope. We stomped on it with our know-it-all, been-there-done-that, oh-so-knowledgeable big mouth. Luckily for us, hope is enduring and responsive to genuine humility, and big mouths are occasionally responsive to closing them.
2. Be humble
Humility is powerful. It puts you in a position to receive. It opens something inside of us. Humility is not thinking you are the scum of the earth, or rejecting compliments, or avoiding the attention of others. It’s just not thinking about yourself that much and thinking about others more. For example, when you meet someone for the first time do you think about all things that they NEED to know about you, or do you have questions about all the things that you’d like to know about them? Being humble is actually being so confident in yourself that you don’t need to flaunt all your achievements to others.
There’s no manual to “how to be humble”, but I think focussing on others, admitting to mistakes, being transparent and learning to listen more are good places to start.
3. Ask more questions
I have a three friends who ask the best questions, Simon in San Fransico, Kristy in Sydney and Michael in Geneva. They ask a question, listen to the answer and then follow up with even more questions. They remember details you’ve told them before and ask about these things when they next speak to you. I often leave conversations with them realising I’ve been talking about myself (and loving it) for a solid hour or so. Needless to say, everybody loves talking to these wonderful people. And I think that they love it too, because they genuinely want to know more about what makes other people and the world around them tick. They ask questions for the love of asking questions. I remember once hanging out with a small group of friends and when there was a comfortable lull in conversation, Simon (looking into the distance) piped up and asked: “Why do chillies burn?” It was so odd that we all laughed at him and then put up with learning about capsaicin for a few minutes as he investigated.
All three of these friends are incredibly intelligent and know a lot stuff, yet (or maybe as a result) they constantly ask questions. Rather than feeling the pressure to come up with answers or fully formed opinions about things in conversation, ask more questions. A conversation doesn’t have to be about giving a convincing argument for the way you see things. “I don’t know” is a legitimate response. It is a noble one even – never be ashamed of it. What do you think? Is a beautiful question. So is Why? Seek to understand before you try to be understood.
4. Delete Candy Crush…
or whatever it is you’re doing on your phone or tablet right now. If you’re wondering if you have an addiction do the following test: 1. Do you mentally organise real life things around into rows. 2. Have you spent any money on the game. 3. Have you had a minor or major level-related meltdown? 4. Do you enjoy a dopamine hit when you see the word: “SWEET”?
Look, I don’t hate the player, I hate the game. You might just be killing some time, but you are are also KILLING time! And you are rotting your brain and you’re paying $850,000 per day for the privilege.
This is the first post of a new Creative Habits: series, in which I explore simple, quirky and tried & tested creative habits. I’ll also review some books on the subject and I’ll give you loads of links to interesting articles . In the meantime, why not tell me what your favourite or most quirky creative habit is?
Over the last four years, a number of people have reached out to me to talk about their idea for a book, about their vague thoughts of starting a blog or vlog or about the creative/ writing process in general. I’m no expert, but I love talking about all these things! It’s not that they’re asking for help or even support anyway. It’s more about putting “it” out there with someone who they think might get it.
Often people just want to share what’s in their heart or imagination. They’re not looking to another person to make it happen for them, but I suppose all they really want is a little bit of encouragement that their quirky little inclination has substance and deserves a chance to live.
I love hearing about the longing to create, which so many people have. Whether it’s to facilitate a big dream or just for the opportunity to challenge and express themselves. Most people are not looking for the “10 step plan for producing beautiful work” (though, if you have that plan, please forward it to me immediately). Nor do they need the “37 tips for creative geniuses”. They just want a little encouragement, a little hope that if they give this thing a shot they won’t die, break something, humiliate themselves, offend the rest of the human race. Of course, I can’t guarantee any of those things won’t happen when you start your creative project, but generally speaking there are more positive than negative outcomes likely to ensue when you take a step into the creative wild.
What I’ve noticed most of all is that people are looking for reassurance that their ideas and opinions are valid. For some reason so many of you intelligent, talented and interesting people hold back from starting something new or putting yourself “out there” because you feel like you’re are not allowed to.
Not allowed to write your memoirs because your life hasn’t been interesting enough.
Not allowed to blog because your thoughts seem trifling.
Not allowed to write because you don’t make words real good.
Not allowed to start a business because you aren’t trained or experienced enough.
Not allowed to start a vlog because you don’t know how to edit videos.
Not allowed to have an opinion because you aren’t as intelligent as other people. (Who are these “other” people by the way? Everybody talks about them, but who are they exactly?! We obviously don’t like them, so how about we just forget them.)
Not allowed to paint because you never took a class.
Not allowed to sell your stuff because it’s not good enough.
All that stuff may very well be true. But if you want to do it… just bloody do it!
Who cares if no one reads, likes, comments, buys, subscribes, worships you? We get so hung up on these details that we forget that we live in an era where we are free and equipped do ANYTHING we want to. We can do what we love and we don’t need permission or approval. We can study whatever, train in whatever, practise whatever. It’s ours for the taking. And if you practise and you work hard and invest into yourself and allow your work to evolve maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a measure of success and acclaim.
And if you do all this and nothing comes of it ask yourself this, did you have a blast? If the answer is yes, then it’s WORTH IT! If the answer’s, no you didn’t have fun doing it, then I’m sorry, but you’re doing it wrong. Sometimes it’s hard working on personal, creative stuff, because our expectations of ourselves can be unachievable at present. But my experience has been that my life is infinitely enriched by creativity and expression. Enriched by the wonder of ideas and thoughts coming together in surprising ways, but also enriched by you. By people who read and reach out to me to let me know that something resonated with them, or that they experienced what I’ve experienced, or that they feel a little more courage to START or to finish or that they want to talk about their little thoughts or their big thing.
If you have a blog of project or something cool you want to share, please do in the comments below or on Insta or Facey or by snail mail or homing pigeon or whatever you like, I’m down with it.
I’ve seen a lot of Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest posts saying “Stay humble”. Makes me wonder why for me it’s more often a case of BE HUMBLED. Maybe that’s cause I didn’t start off humble?
I had parents who thought I was amazing and gifted and beautiful from the second I popped out and said goo goo gah gah. I was pretty cute back then, so I got used to everyone thinking I was some kind of miracle from before I’d done anything more impressive than drool on myself. For me humility was something life had to school me in, and guys, I am one slow learner.
Over the years and many cringe-worthy opportunities to grow, I’ve learned that it’s not so difficult to be humbled when you look around and realise:
1. You are a very small person in a really REALLY big world.
Look at the ocean, look at the sky, look at the shades of green and brown and grey around you! How wonderful, how sublime, how lucky we are to have access to wide open living – whether it be natural landscapes or concrete jungles. You are lovely to behold, but try taking your eyes off yourself for a moment and you’ll notice that the world is glorious and eagerly waiting for you to come outside and see and learn and explore and play.
2. You are damn fool.
You know it, your real friends know it. Embrace it. Don’t waste your time trying to hide it. Understanding that you are a fool is actually pretty freeing once you learn to stop cringing at the things you say and do.
3. You will make mistakes.
You will hurt others. You will break things. You will break yourself. Learn to say sorry. And learn to accept apologies too while you’re at it. It’s easy to let the shame of a mistake drive you into hiding, but it’s far more interesting and helpful to acknowledge a mistake and move forward. Mistakes are actually quite wonderful when you have the right perspective. They give you an opportunity to be real, to check yourself and to empathise with others who you may have previously written off. Mistakes can also make space if your life for genuine relationships where previously you only had frenemies. A big mistakes can be an opportunity to reassess and take step closer to the right move.
4. You’re kind of not that big a deal.
Yeah, nobody really cares about how amazing you are. Be cool, be kind. Introduce yourself with a handshake and a smile. Ask people questions about themselves once in a while. Practise good manners. Make your mum proud.
5. You could always laugh about it.
Have you ever had a moment where you’re walking around the city in your sophisticated new work dress, when the charming young man standing behind you on the escalator taps you on the shoulder and says, “Um, your skirt’s tucked in at the back.” And when you put your hand on your butt you realise that indeed half your skirt is tucked INTO your knickers. And then the lady behind the charming young man chimes in with, “yeah it’s really in there!” (Hypothetically speaking of course…) In situations like these you wish you could be cool, you wish you could have some witty comeback, but the best, yes the very best you can do is laugh. (Especially as you wonder how long it’s been like that for…)
Sometimes it seems like everything is out to get us, but what if all these awful things, the awkward moments, the huge mistakes, the humiliation are just wonderful opportunities to be humbled and recapture the wonder of things that are not you or me!
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A while ago I read the Paris Review interview with Ernest Hemingway and came across his response to the question of what his writing process looked like:
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.
The Paris Review, Issue 18, 1958
That’s the life we long for! Having the freedom to dedicate every morning to a passion, which for me is writing but for you may be another creative or fulfilling endeavour. Sadly grown-up life requires gainful employment, family time, socialising, eating, sleeping, personal hygiene, house cleaning and a million other time consuming activities.
I’m very fortunate to have one whole day that I get to dedicate to writing, for which I’m deliriously grateful. Even with that full day, I often felt like I was trudging uphill when in came to my word count on WIPs. I quickly learned that the amount of time you have does not seamlessly correlate the amount of work you produce. More time did not necessarily mean more output or productivity.
Then in August 2013, I returned from a short stint of volunteering in a slum in Manila with a wild idea for a novel. While in the slum, I’d met and fallen in love with four small siblings: Angelo, Jonjon, Daidai and Dodong. The idea was a huge fictional story based on their character traits and the nature of their world. It consumed me, I mean burned in me, like no other story I’ve written. The excitement, and fear of losing this rapidly unfolding story, meant that I churned out the writing faster than anything I’d ever written. After three weeks, I had about 20, 000 words – which is not normal for me. I was still working and doing all the other things, but what had changed was:
1) I was (am) obsessed.
2) I was writing every single day.
I used every minute of “dead time” I had. I was taking my laptop EVERYWHERE. I would write on the forty minute train commute to work, on my lunch breaks or for an hour when I got home after work. On my writing day and on Saturdays I could pump out a couple of thousand words. But most of the daily “sessions” were 300, 500, 700 word hits.
Inspired by seeing what a manic daily writing can achieve with just a little bit of time every day, I feel totally convinced that daily writing is a core habit that I need build into my life in order to feel satisfied with my creative productivity.
I finished my first draft earlier this month (hitting 70,000 words in six months!) so March has been a month of editing and reworking. My word count is steadily increasing as I fill in the gaps and play around with scenes and language, but the focus has not been purely dumping words on the page as in previous months. I’ve been writing almost every day since August, so really this month has been about creating an intentional habit which I can sustain when the hysteria of this novel subsides.
So, here are some of the lessons I’ve taken away from trying to establish the habit of Daily Writing (or daily creative productivity):
1. Get it out of your head. If you have a WIP or an established idea – put your back into it and pump out the words. Dump your thoughts and inklings down. If you can’t get the flow, just write the things, scenes, action, chapters that is most vivid to you. You can always go back to fill in the gaps, write what’s hot.
2. Don’t edit. Everyone’s process is different. For me writing and editing are two completely different processes. Writing is about get it out in semi coherent form. Editing is about organising, clarifying and adding the finer details. Having some structure to begin with is immensely helpful, but you don’t have to be married to your structure when you’re creating. As long as you’re fiddling with and “perfecting” chapter one you will never get to chapter thirty, where you realise the your character’s side-kick has to die, which changes everything you thought you’d “perfected” in the previous chapters. Think about that the next time you find yourself obsessing over the perfect word to describe the exact shade of green of a character’s eyes.
3. Create helpful associations. One trick I use is going to the same cafe every writing day or Saturday for an hour (or four) to churn out some writing. The familiar smell, sounds, sites, staff and the perfect coffee kick my brain into gear for writing and I can honestly lose myself in my manuscript for hours! It’s bizarre, but it works! Mind you, this is after years of doing this. Other associations could be doing the work at the same time everyday or after doing some other automatic task.
4. Use “dead” time. Write during your commute. Get yourself out of bed earlier and write for 30 minutes while you sip a cup of tea. Switch off your TV or throw a trident through it or drop it out the window or whatever. Give up some other “luxury” like painting your nails every week or online “window” shopping or social media.
5. Kill creative guilt. This can be really destructive and will kill whatever shred of confidence and joy you have in your writing. If you’ve missed a few days, weeks (or months), here’s one fail-proof way to get on your feet again. Write 300 words. Right now. I have moments of hyperventilating about not having written anything for too long. I can articulate the precise depth of despair and torment that unproductive weeks wreak on my fragile soul…but when I finally shut up about it, sit down and write 300 words I immediately feel better, worthy, able.
Do neck exercises. Spend all your money into chiro, osteo, physio, remedial massage, tiger balm, heat packs, pilates… Neck and back pain is a curse, take care of your body.
Lessons learned: See all of the above. Also get a backpack for your laptop. Sure you look like Dora the Explorer, but when you look longingly at all those lovely girls with their cute handbags and perfectly combed hair ask yourself this question, when’s the last time any of them wrote 70,000 glorious words? I’ll tell you when. NEVER!
April habit: Wake Early. (deep breaths, deep breaths)
We’re all waiting for an opportunity, for our one shot. I just have a question.
Are you ready?
What if tomorrow THAT company called and said, “We think you have potential and we want to invest in your startup.”
What if this afternoon you got an email from a literary agent saying, “Hey we read one of your published short stories and we liked it. Do you have a novel we could take a look at?”
What if your band was approached to play at a major gig next week, potentially showcasing your fresh sounds to a huge new audience?
What if it happened right now? Are you ready for that?
If this doesn’t make you pee your pants a little bit in terror, then, my friend, you just don’t care enough about your dream. Or your dream is boring.
Side note about dreams. When people hashtag #livingthedream on things like having a great day off or swimming at the beach or lunch, I kinda want to punch them in the face coz, what the heck dude is that seriously your dream?! I dream about being the president of the world (the whole world) so I can boss everyone around and have a personal masseur. I dream about having a keyboard player following me around playing the live soundtrack to my daily life. I dream about writing a million books, reading a million books, spreading love and joy around the planet, world peace, a world without crocs, a world without poverty, hate and self-loathing. I too enjoy coffees and holding hands and swimming in the ocean, but that is not The Dream, that’s just a nice intermission. The Dream is bloody hard work. *rant over*
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Particularly in the context of creative practice and production. A while ago I was reading articles about young fashion designers Bec and Bridge who started straight out of uni (UTS represent). A friend of theirs walked into a shop wearing their customised jeans and the owner called them and ordered 120 pairs, forcing them to quickly learn about production and ship ship ship! Every fashion student probably has that dream of having their own label launched into the stratosphere by winning a start up prize and serendipitous opportunities like these women have had. But I wonder if anyone stops to think about how much hard work goes into grabbing opportunity with both hands and taking off. In interviews with Bec and Bridge they talk about spending all their time at uni working on assessments and on their fledgling label (which at that point NO-ONE cared about). About using every opportunity they had to work on the business: designing, creating, developing a website, marketing etc. The opportunities were amazing, but their success came because they did something with it.
Sometimes I think that opportunity is a luck of the draw thing. I don’t know if some people get more opportunities than others or maybe some people just see opportunities more than others? Whatever the case your opportunity is coming, it’s on it’s way. But to be truly great, to make the kind of impact that you and I long for we need to be good enough to warrant success and we need to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
I don’t have a definition for “good enough”, but you must understand that just because you like it, doesn’t mean that it will go to market. If what you’re creating is purely for yourself, that is SO ok! Not everyone wants to make a big deal of what they are doing. Creating for the joy of the experience is totally valid and completely wonderful! There are a plethora of incredible visionaries and artists who were not widely celebrated by their contemporaries.
If you do want to make a big deal of it, you’ve got to work it:
1. Create. Put the time aside in your day or week to pump out your 500 or 5000 words. Go to the painting cave and don’t you dare come out until it’s done. Write 20 awful songs until you get one that you like. Produce some worthy of attention. No excuses.
2. Care. You are the only person who cares about this part of you right now. Others may love and care for you, but no-one knows what it will cost you to give this thing life. You have care more about this than anyone else, you have to care about it EVEN IF no one else ever does. You have to practice while no-one is watching, you have to sweat over it quietly for as long as it takes.
3. Ship. Put it on your website. Share it with/ sell it to your friends and family. Book gigs or market stalls or art galleries. Submit your poems to publishers. Audition. Do it for free, do it for a feed, do it in exchange for something, just do it!
4. Refine. Look you’re probably pretty good, but don’t ever be so arrogant (or insecure) that you can’t accept quality feedback. If a good editor makes some suggestions, thank them for their time and do something with those suggestions. If no-one is coming to your gigs or they don’t buy your EP afterwards, work on new stuff – try a new direction or just be more disciplined about practising! If you’re having a little success, but not breaking through to your sales goals, do a short course on small business marketing, contact a business owner you admire and arrange a skype chat or coffee. Don’t settle for average, you could be a few tweaks away from glorious.
*Another note: Please don’t ask for feedback or advice if you’re not going to do anything with it, because that would make you an askhole. Don’t be an askhole. Also, don’t keep flogging the same old stuff to the same people, there’s probably a reason they haven’t bought, watched or engaged yet. If you’re feeling brave ask a friend why they aren’t interested then change your product or change who you’re marketing to. Rethink. Refine. Keep going.
5. Make friends. This is actually really underrated, but make friends with like minded people. Make friends with creative people from different fields. At times they’ll inspire you, at times they’ll challenge you (or make you froth with jealousy so much that it forces you to step your game up). Other times they’ll be the ones to talk you off the ledge when you want to throw it all in. There are more opportunities than ever to connect online and offline. No-one likes self-absorbed and wormy networking, but everyone loves an authentic and encouraging connection with someone who gets it. If you’re reading this, you probably are my friend (or my mother) and I love you for coming back every week and reading all the way to the end even when I get all ranty and use too many words that all mean the same thing. If you’re reading this and you’re not my friend yet, what are you waiting for? You can subscribe, or find me on Instagram, or write to me and tell me where to find your stuff. Creatives unite!
“I will study and prepare, and someday my opportunity will come.”
– Abraham Lincoln