Letting Go of Perfect

Some days I’m convinced perfectionism is a shape shifter. As I edit my drafts and continue down this writing path I get more and more ‘finished’ projects. At least I think they are finished, till I read them again a week or two later. What happened to my perfect project? Why do I hate the […]

Life #goals

Last week I shared a post about why we want to quit and talked about how important it is to flip the question and instead think about why we are doing whatever it is we’re doing in the first place. I talked about goals a bit and I want to develop the idea that goals are important here.

If the word “goal” makes you think of “New Year’s Resolution” and you grimace, think “challenge” instead. Who doesn’t like a challenge?

Goals should be stepping stones to achieving your dreams.

What do you dream about doing someday? Now make that smaller. Cut it up into bite-sized pieces you can attack today, this month, this year. Those are your goals.

Personally, I live for goals. If I’m not in a fitness challenge, I tend to slack on my workouts. If I don’t have a goal date to have a project done, it just sits there. So I always have running goals, short-term and long-term.

If you don’t have a goal in mind, then where are you headed?

Goals focus me. I realized early on in my 20s that I’m absolutely aimless and stagnant without goals. If something comes up in my life that doesn’t serve my goals, then I’m more apt to turn it down with good reason. If an opportunity comes into my life that aligns with my goals, I will probably jump at it to get closer to achieving my goals. Otherwise I’m just a ping pong ball going back and forth to what everyone else wants.

But what if you don’t have set goals? Break out your thinking cap and let’s go for a ride.

Life goals

What do you want out of life? You might know this even if you haven’t ever pinned it down or written it in your journal. Do you want a big family? Do you want a successful career? Do you want to own your own business? Do you want to publish a book someday? Your life goals encompass all of your other goals.

Focus on what you want but consider your family, especially your spouse, with your goals. If you want to own a big farm in the middle of nowhere but your husband wants to be a lawyer in a big city, you need to have a conversation.

Career goals

Is your dream job something big like being a heart surgeon or pop star? Or do you have more modest goals like being a stay-at-home mom or helping the community through your desk job? Think about what you want to do. Not what your parents/spouse/friends/the world say/says. What do you want to do with your life? Then pursue it and (hopefully) get paid for it.

Family goals

Do you want to get married or be single? Do you want a ton of kids or are you happy with a couple dogs? Do you want to adopt or do you only want biological children? If you’re in a relationship, talk about these things with your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/fiancée now.

Creative goals

Do you want to publish on a blog or publish in a brand-name magazine? Do you want your friends and family to read your stories, or do you want the world to read them? Will you be happy if you never get on the bestseller list? Is self-publishing a few books enough for you, or do you want an agent and a career?

Take a deep breath.

If you’re not 100% sure what your goals are in any of these areas, that’s okay. You don’t need to have all the answers now, but I hope you’ll start thinking about them today. And it’s okay if your goals change over time, because they probably will even if you don’t fulfill them. That’s how life is. We change, sometimes our dreams change, and so our goals change.

I’m not completely sure what my dream day job would be, but I’m reading books, listening to podcasts, and journaling about it to figure it out. Then, when I know what my career goal is, I’ll be able to pursue that goal in incremental steps. In the meantime, I’m going to learn everything I can about what I might want to do and how I can go about doing it. That way, when I do know, I’ll know which path to take.

Challenge: Think about your life goals. If you know what they are, take a big step to achieving them this week. If you’re not sure, take some time to think about what you would like to achieve, ask yourself why, and talk about it with friends or family members to receive solid feedback.

Extra credit: Turn superficial #goals into real-life, “I’m getting stuff done and pursuing my dreams” #goals. Or, like me, grab a cup of coffee to give yourself the jump start you need to pursue your goals. Share your #goals with me on Instagram @writersam77.

Note: If you’re not sure where to find information on how to achieve your goals, visit me next week.

Why do we want to quit?

My 6 o’clock alarm goes off and I want to roll over and skip my workout because I’m tired and hate mornings until I have coffee in my hand. Halfway through my writing project, I think it’s dumb and want to stop writing because it’s crap and I can’t imagine who would like it anyway. When I have a really rough day at work, I consider quitting my jobs and becoming a stay-at-home dog mom because obviously that’s a great career move. 

Tiredness, frustration, boredom, fear of rejection… These are all reasons to quit.

But what would quitting solve?

Nothing.

It would only create more problems. I’d lose muscle tone and gain a few pounds back, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I have goals, you know? I would never get published if I stopped writing right now. I’d almost surely turn into a blob of sad who lived on my couch if I stopped working. I’d also stop gaining fitness knowledge and writing skills if I gave these things up.

I would stop becoming a better version of myself if I quit.

Now let’s take a step back. Who am I? I’m a young woman who enjoys writing, editing, reading, running, cooking and baking (when someone else does the dishes), binge-watching TV shows, and spending time with my husband, family, and friends. I’m a millennial who works hard. I’m a writer, blogger, librarian, and night owl. I’m a lover of coffee, nachos, and ice cream who tries to live a balanced life, whatever the heck that is.

I know. I can hear you now. “Sam, why does any of that matter to me?”

It matters because it gives me my why.

When I want to quit, I shouldn’t focus on the problem. I need to focus on my why. Instead of “Why do I want to quit?,” I need to turn the question into:

“Why am I doing this?”

My why for today may be the same or way different than it was when I started running/writing/working, but today’s why matters because today is, well, today.

Life constantly changes, so my why is going to change, and that’s okay.

If I didn’t want to publish a book someday, I could stop writing. Writing would no longer serve as a means to obtaining my goals. But it is one of my goals, so I’ll keep writing, editing, and being rejected.

Why do I want to publish a book someday? Because I love sharing stories and I know that within me, I have some stories that someone else needs to read. Why do I workout most mornings? Working out makes me happier overall and gives me more energy throughout my day. (See this blog post for more on that topic.) Plus, it makes me stronger physically and mentally. Why do I have two jobs right now? Because I have grand career goals and I improve my writing craft every day at my jobs.

Now it’s your turn. What are your goals? For your career, for your family, in your life as a whole? Write them down. Then take a step back and consider the why behind those goals. Make your why meaningful and write it down.

Instead of thinking about all the reasons why you want to quit, figure out why you want to keep going.

Challenge: Think about your lifelong and/or short-term goals this week and write them down. Then write your why down. What happened recently that made you want to quit? If you kept going, what pushed you forward? If you quit, how can you get back to it and stop yourself from quitting again? Let me know in the comments.

Note: If you don’t already have life, career, and family goals, that’s okay. Visit me next week for more on why goals are not only important, but necessary in life.

P.S. Look at how my dogs help me write! I’d be an awesome stay-at-home dog mom.

Dogs

Get your creativity flowing again

When your creativity flows more like a slow trickle instead of a gushing waterfall, it’s time to rest.

I could be poetic and say something like… Creativity is an ever-flowing waterfall. Whether it’s trickling or gushing, it’s always running. Until it stops…

But I’m too tired for that right now.

I’ve been working A LOT these last few months. I’m lucky if I spend a couple hours with my husband, read a chapter in a book for fun, and sleep seven hours most nights. On top of that, I prioritize this blog, working out, and meal prepping, and I do my best to work on my current writing project at least once per week. But… I’ve been slacking on editing my big project. (See this blog post for more about prioritizing in life.)

It’s the sad truth. I’m tired of juggling so many things and missing out on other things because of it. I’m worn out. I’m frustrated. I want to nap 98% of the time.

Do you ever feel like this?

If you don’t, high five! Share your secret in the comments.

If you do, take a deep breath and keep reading.

This is only a season. Circumstances in life will change. This will not last forever.

You’ve probably heard it before: When you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit. ﹘Banksy

That’s what fitness trainers say. If your body needs a break or if you’re just plain super sore, take a rest day. Don’t give up on your training or try to get a refund on that race you already registered for. Just take a day off and give your muscles time to rebuild. This is why most fitness programs focus on different muscle groups every day – to give the muscle you worked on yesterday a break while building different muscles today. Give your inner critic a break, too, and realize that rest is necessary to avoid injury. Then jump back into your training tomorrow or the next day.

I can get tired with stories, too. Just opening that notebook or Word document can make me sigh. Flipping through pages I need to edit feels daunting and painful. (I wrote that? *continues reading* I wrote that! *practices fainting dramatically*) It can make me question why I ever thought I could write and edit. I consider giving it all up at times because it’s so hard.

But you’ve also heard: It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. ﹘Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own

Writing is hard. Editing, especially your own work, is hard. That’s why so many people set out to write a book and never finish. This creative life is difficult and tiring, but it’s worth it. Not only when you’re published, but also when you realize how much you’ve improved over the years. Those moments of recognizing personal growth are exhilarating and peaceful. They make it worth the pain and difficulty we sometimes experience.

It’s okay to be tired, but let’s not glorify it.

Tiredness leads to injury, physical and mental. It’s important to take care of yourself – physically, mentally, spiritually, and creatively. So don’t give up; rest. Don’t empty your creative well until it dries up and you have nothing left to write. Walk away for awhile. Fill your creative well with other activities and projects in the meantime, but keep this tricky one on your list. (That’s called “active rest” in the fitness world.) You never know when you’ll have the ideas/skills/aptitude/desire to attack it again. And then, you’ll be so glad you kept it.

Challenge A: If you’re tired of your project, set it aside for an hour, a day, a week, a month. Keep it on your to-do list but start another project, even if it’s a short one such as a short story or poem. Then do something you enjoy, like going for a walk, swimming at the local (indoor) pool, or playing a card game; Easter weekend is perfect for this! Let me know how the break feels in the comments.

Challenge B: If you walked away from a project because it was difficult, pick it back up again. You might be ready to tackle it now. Give it at least an hour, a day, a week, a month. Give it a chance. It was your idea to begin with. Maybe you’ll remember what sparked the idea and be able to reignite that fire. Let me know how restarting that project feels in the comments.

The power of ‘no’

Saying “no” can be powerful.

As a people-pleasing, passive person, I rarely say no in real life. When I do say no to a friend or loved one, I feel super guilty about it for weeks. No, I can’t go to the movies this weekend because I have plans with my husband/mom/grandma/husband’s mom or grandma. Sorry I can’t make it to your party; I have to work all day that day. I wish I could come, but I have a lot of work to do on my book.

The sad thing is, all of these things are honest realities for where I’m at in life and I shouldn’t feel guilty for working 50+ hours a week or working on multiple writing projects to advance my career. Instead, I should be proud of what I accomplish on a weekly basis. Heck, I should be proud that I keep myself and two dogs alive! (Granted, I can’t take all the credit. My husband does a lot for me and our dogs – he’s awesome).

But I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. My meager guilt isn’t exciting. It’s not book-worthy. Guilt only goes so far in a story, unless it’s intense and in a psychological thriller or romance. There needs to be more in a story than this boring midwesterner has to offer. But I promise you, the conversations in my head get pretty exciting. They often fuel plot points in my writing.

I often say no in my head during made-up conversations that will never happen (you do that too, right?) to release frustration or anger. This typically happens when I’m exhausted or hangry. Then, after the little fictitious scenario ends in my head, I realize how nonsensical it was and how important it is to be an adult and stop whining about it already.

Just say “no” and walk away or solve whatever the problem is.

Say no to silly scenarios. Say no to fruitless arguments. Say no to things that don’t fuel you, help you grow, or improve your life in any way.

Now I know that’s great and practical adult advice for the real world (yawn!), but what about our projects? We can’t say no to those! I have characters begging to be set free on the page and I know you do, too, no matter what type of art you create.

When I think of main characters (MCs), I think of adventurous problem-solvers who save the world! But what if instead of saving the world, they say no? What if she says no to the cute guy she’s been crushing on for months when he asks her out on a date? What if he doesn’t agree to help a supporting character through a difficult time? How much would it change the overall plot? Your MC emotionally? Would saying no make them stronger or weaker?

Challenge: Make your MC say no this week. (The above photo showcases how I mapped out “no” options for all of my characters in my current project. I definitely didn’t originally consider having my MC Bee die in the story, but it’s now an option.) Maybe you’ll scrap the idea and go back to your original plot… Or maybe the MC saying no shocks the rest of the characters, the reader, and you because it’s awesome and the new plot options unfold beautifully. Let me know how it works in the comments.

Sleepless nights with my muse

We all experience sleepless nights.

I’m not talking about having a baby cry every other hour in the next room or a roommate who insists he doesn’t snore. I’m talking about the buzzing brain that won’t quiet until it can create.

Some people personify their creativity as a muse. I don’t always do this, but sometimes I imagine my muse as a little character in my head, a lot like Disney and Pixar’s Inside Out.

Sometimes I neglect my muse and she tugs at ideas in my brain.

She knocks over the old-timey color-coded drawers and flings the individual ideas out of them, one page at a time. Each idea floats from the top of my brain to its floor, falling on top of one another and piling up in a discombobulated mess. My muse picks up various ideas and reads them off to me, shouting. When I turn over in bed, she tosses that idea and grabs another idea to shout at me. On and on until I get out of bed with a quiet huff.

I can be exhausted, but still, my muse makes a mess of things in my brain. She tells me I haven’t let her out in a while like an unruly puppy. I can’t ignore a puppy. I must feed, water, and exercise it at least daily.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that my muse usually acts up when I skipped my workout that day. *gasp* I don’t mean a rest day, but instead an “I was lazy and slept in like a bum” day.

My needs to create and move are intertwined!

I’m not exactly sure how my creativity and fitness are linked, but I know when I fuel both of those needs – mind and body – both my muse and my desire to move stay happy in their respective corners in my brain. But when I neglect one or even both, my mind turns my body against me. My brain buzzes with obnoxious activity and my legs literally ache. I’m forced to either go for a run or write in a notebook until my brain is satisfied and calms down, allowing me to finally get some sleep.

Take it from my experience: don’t ignore your muse.

Ignoring my muse’s shouting only fuels her frustration, and the ideas pile so high in my head that I continue to toss and turn for hours. When I get out of bed, grab my notebook, and pour out all of those pesky ideas onto the page, I feel a sense of relief. My muse curls up in her corner of my brain and we both are able to fall asleep.

My challenge for you this week is to think about your muse. Does she nag you when you’re trying to sleep? Does she choose your days of activity or inactivity to bother you the most? How does your muse relate to your health and fitness? Let me know in the comments and then do something to make your muse happy.

For extra credit, listen to “My Muse” by Sarah Jarosz at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjdGgcFf-T8. (I just really love her music.)

Wedding advice for life and creativity

When I first started planning my wedding, I continued writing. I told myself I could do it. I could juggle two jobs, plan a wedding, workout, and nurture a slowly budding writing career, right?

Fast forward one year during our two-year engagement and I realized I couldn’t do it all and sleep. Solid wedding advice crept to the surface. A wise coworker told me:

“Choose three things that matter to you the most. Focus on those three things and only those three things. Then assign everything else to someone else or don’t worry about it.”

At the time her words echoed in my head during a chaotic day at work, I had two of three big things set in stone for my wedding. But in my life? I was trying to run on nearly dead batteries. So I decided to choose three things to focus on in life—writing was not one of them, and that’s okay.

If you’ve never planned a wedding before, you’re probably horrified that I would give up on my creative outlet for a year. The thing is, I didn’t. One of my jobs is in communications, so I still wrote and edited daily. Plus, I continued to read and attend my monthly writing group.

Here’s what I chose to focus on for that year, but your list may be different:

  1. My jobs. During this time, I changed jobs and got a promotion. This was vital to my career and financial health. I never wanted to be a starving artist.
  2. Working out. This was (and still is) my stress reliever and creativity inducer. Being physically healthier made me mentally healthier. Plus, I wanted to look good in my dress on my wedding day. There’s no shame in that.
  3. Wedding plan. Duh. I couldn’t afford a wedding planner (see 1) and who else but my fiancé and I could plan our own wedding, anyway?

Now that we have said our vows, the cake has been eaten, and my name is legally changed, I’m glad I focused on three things during our second year of engagement. Wedding planning is like another job. And now that that third job is done and our lives are back to normal (whatever that is), I can replace number 3 on my list to “Write, edit, repeat until published.”

Don’t fret if your creative time is nonexistent or negligible.

It’s just like working out or planning a wedding—you have to carve out time from your busy schedule to be creative. Maybe you’re charging your creative batteries right now, and that’s okay. Sometimes life does get in the way. But don’t let life stay that way. Your babies will grow. Your classes will end. Your body will heal. Take your creative life back when the time is right. For me, that time is now.

Happy creating (or charging)!