Just a quick little round up post of things I’ve discovered are great:
First, remember my post last month when I mentioned friend Yosra and the inspiring way she’s battling cancer? Well, you are going to want to take a look at this beautiful video with Yosra, put together by the tour crew for Beyonce. And check out Yosra’s website chronicling her fight while you are at it.
Second, I’ve read some great writing advice recently (which happened to also be beautifully illustrated). 1. Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
And finally, I will leave you with pictures of adorable puppies. Mark and I have talked about getting a dog for years now…and I’m still not sure if we are ready. But we sure had a great time getting to know lots of great dogs and cats at Meet the Breeds today. Here are just a few highlights:
P.S. If you want to read my yoga insights, I’m writing about the power of using props in your yoga practice over on my other blog, KateAsana.
Working full time and having a life makes it difficult to find the motivation to spend even more time in front of a computer at the end of long days.
And writing a novel is a long process that seems like it will never end and even if it does, then what?
It can all feel so daunting and hopeless, and watching T.V. can just sound so much more appealing.
But recently, I’ve been inspired by people who don’t make excuses and just put their butts in the chair and write 1,000 words a day no matter what. So I’m trying to get back in a regular and more disciplined groove — 25 minutes a night to start. So far so good. Here’s some more writing inspiration:
One of the many great things about summer is all the free outdoor yoga classes (yes, mine included…). I’ve done yoga in Times Square, Prospect Park, Coney Island, and today after work I walked two blocks and took a great yoga class in Bryant Park. Its good to take your practice outside, experience the interesting mix of peace and distractions, and try out different teachers.
But this post isn’t about yoga, well not completely. This post is about something the teacher said in the class in the park. She was trying to get the 200 or so people in the park to do this pose:
Yeah, that’s right. It wasn’t happening. I’ve been doing yoga for 7 years, and this was nowhere near happening. And I wasn’t alone, there was probably 2 out of the 200+ people this was happening for (and even for those 2, it lasted for about 10 seconds). I have always thought of these as “show off” poses, and I’ve been fine with the idea that I’ll never reach them, I’ll give it a shot, but it’s not for me. And maybe I’m right, but maybe not. Who knows.
Like I said the yoga pose isn’t the point. It’s what she said when we were all looking at her like she was crazy.
“Another word for miracle is repetition.”
Something might look crazy, something might seem impossible, but sometimes if you keep plugging away at chaturangas, or writing, or running, or sewing, or holding your breath underwater, or baking, and one day you are in that crazy arm balance, or have finished a novel, or ran a marathon, or made a skirt, or are swimming laps, or made a cake.
Sure it’s a cliche, Rome wasn’t built in a day, if at first you don’t succeed try try again, but cliches are there for a reason. And so what if it’s cheesy, some days it might not work, but some days a thought like this may be just the reminder you need.
I read this blog post the other day about committing 15 minutes a day to writing, she makes a lot of good points in it, one being that “Repetition builds momentum.” Its hard to find a large block of time to write, so you don’t do it and then weeks or months go by with no progress, but a few minutes a day, and you have a chapter in a few weeks.
Practice might not make perfect–your novel might never get published, you might fall out of the handstand after 10 seconds, you might finish the marathon dead last but you are lapping all the people on the couch who never even get started
A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Productivity: The 3pm Mystery and The Case For Mornings. Much to my surprise the post got picked as one of Word Press’ “Freshly Pressed” posts and as a result thousands of people read the post and hundreds commented on it. It was all very exciting, and I’m so greatful for all the comments and kind words. Because the topic of productivity seems to be one that people are most interested in, I figured I should follow up on some of the suggestions I made in that post.
Time Tracker Spreadsheet
The first suggestion on the list was to track every half hour of your day on a spreadsheet to see where you spend most of your time and how you can change it. I made my own “Productivity time tracker” sheet and dutifully tracked every half hour of my day, every day for the past three weeks. (Yes that’s as tedious as it sounds).
Here’s what I learned from it:
1) I don’t do as much work as I thought. I’m sure this is true of everyone–you are sitting at your computer from 9:30am to 6pm with a half hour for lunch for example, but of those 9 hours, maybe 5 are full on work. No matter how productive I tried to force myself to be there was always 1/2 hour gaps of “miscellaneous stuff” (checking email, paying bills, reading blogs, etc). I don’t think that stuff can be avoided completely but this was a good way to become more aware of it.
2) It made me feel the need to do more. Especially after reading about how morning people get more done, I felt the need to get up earlier, especially since I’d be recording it on the spreadsheet. It worked with mixed results–sometimes I’d feel like that extra hour made be get more done and other times I’d still find myself at lunch time feeling like I hadn’t done much. Housework especially made me feel this way.
3)It’s all about how you frame things. Do I consider riding my bike to a friend’s house or walking to the doctor’s office “commuting time” or “exercise”? Is writing a blog post “freelance work” or “personal writing”? Simply looking at your time in a different way made me feel like I was doing more.
4) It took a lot of time to track how I was spending my time. As I mentioned, it was tedious to track how I spent every 1/2 hour of each day. It was interesting to see, and learn from for a few weeks, but I don’t think this method is useful in the long term–you would end up spending hours of your life tracking how you spend hours of your life, rather than just living it.
To Do Lists
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a master list maker–and at any given moment I have at least 4 different types of lists going. As far as To Do lists go, I tried making a schedule for myself (like Mondays from 10am-1pm: Apply for jobs, 2pm-4pm: work on freelance pitches, etc) and I’ve tried to do lists by day (do all of these things on Monday and all of this things on Tuesday). Both of those didn’t work too well. Mostly because you can’t always know what’s going to happen in a day– you have your schedule to write a blog post every Wednesday afternoon, but you find something interesting you want to write about on Thursday. You are plan to work on freelance pitches but have a dentist appointment. Then when you don’t accomplish what you planned for that day you feel like you’ve failed.
I found the To Do list that worked best for me was a week goals: these are the 20 things I need to do this week–some I put days by–like contact this person by this date, etc. And others I could tick off part of as the week went on (Apply for 10 jobs). By the end of the week I had almost always crossed off all of the items, so I never felt like I got off track.
The Kitchen Timer and Internet Black Hole
I still think my kitchen timer method of putting myself in “writing prison” (i.e. you have to write for this time, no matter what–you can’t get out), works the best for shorter (1 hour) bursts of productivity. I found the working without internet to be really difficult however–not because of the urge to check facebook or gmail, but because it’s nearly impossible to write without looking something up every once in awhile. I couldn’t work on an article about the best beaches in New York State without being able to look up info on the state parks, I couldn’t write a fiction story that takes place in Chicago without looking up the names of streets, I couldn’t transcribe an interview without clarifying the name of the camera the person mentioned. I even use Google for spell check when MS Word fails to know what I’m trying to say and use online dictionaries and thesauruses.
I think from all of this I’ve learned more about myself and the way that I work. I can see some ways I need to make changes, and I think I’ll keep my eyes and ears peeled for more methods of making the most of my time. There are many things (like creative writing and art projects) that I’d like to make more time for. I’ve also learned that some amount of “miscellaneous stuff” and “time wasting” is just going to happen no matter what and there’s no use beating yourself up over it
Today I offer, with little commentary, three awesome rap videos about writing, grammar, and reading. Being smart is cool, and if this is what it takes to get people to use your and you’re properly, I’m totally on board.
First: Your vs. You’re by “The fastest white rapper”
“See this one belongs to you and this one is something you are it’s true”
Next: A rap for my fellow journalists, The Elements of Style Rap by Columbia grad students Jake Heller and Ben Teitelbaum.
“Split infinitive, never definitive, sounds unintelligent, dumb and ineloquent. Just say it like you meant, always write with intent.”
And finally, one that was posted a few months ago on my Book Club’s page. La Shea Delaney & Annabelle Quezada’s “Bitches in Bookshops”
“You use a Kindle? I carry spines, supporting bookshelves like a bra–Calvin Klein.”
I used to cringe when I heard a pun, like many people I thought they were one of the cheesiest forms of humor and I fancied myself dry and witty. Then I got my first magazine job and my boss would routinely call me into his office to help him come up with punny headlines for articles.
Over time I learned to enjoy this as a kind of a fun mental exercise for word geeks. Are puns the highest (or even most hilarious) form of humor? Most certainly not, but they take a certain amount of knowledge of the world we live in both past and present and a love of words and the idiosyncrasies of the English language along with the desire to poke fun at things—in other words I was made to love puns I just didn’t know it.
So I was excited to see this video by John Pollack, the author of a book about puns called The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics, as he goes on a pun safari in New York City.
Sadly his safari, in my opinion, missed tons of great pun gems. Two instantly spring to mind: Has Beans, the South Park Slope coffee shop I pass every day, and Doggy Style the pet grooming salon in Soho near my old office. So in my mind the gauntlet has been thrown. I will document a better punnier New York! Feel free to share your favorite puns that you’ve seen out in the world (in or outside of NYC)
Tonight I’m going to the Moth Story Slam at the Bell House in Brooklyn. I love story telling events (also check out the Liar Show), and while I’ve been an audience member at various story telling events for the past few years, I’ve started to write a few of my own, but as of yet I’ve been too chicken to try my hand at preforming at one myself .
At the (always packed) story slams more storytellers sign up to preform then get a chance to, so at the end of the night all of those that didn’t get randomly picked to read get to come on stage and deliver just the first line of their stories, and they are almost always really intriguing.
Which got me thinking, in journalism the lede is traditionally really important, and the shift has been that before it had to contain those all important: who, what, where, when, why, and how, while now more and more it seems the emphasis is on a clever opening. But wether it’s a personal story preformed live, a news article, a blog post, or a novel, as a writer you have precious little time to convince your audience that they should give a shit and invest in caring about what you have to say.
To that end, I came across an article from The Guardian called “The 10 best first lines in fiction“, while my 10 best would be different, the article makes some good points. Especially striking to me was the opening line in what was my favorite book when I was 15, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
“Postwar American first lines don’t come much more angsty or zeitgeisty than this.” says the article.
So I figured I would look at some of my first lines.
From my in progress attempts at story telling:
“My parents got divorced on Valentine’s Day 1984, when I was three years old.”
“I think like most people I’m inherently selfish, but also like most people, I want to see myself as generous, kind and helpful.”
“I lived in Ann Arbor during college, which to many people (especially those who try to talk to me about football) implies that I went to the University of Michigan.”
and from my in progress novel:
“With all other vices tauntingly out of my price rage, walking became both my means of escape and self-flagellation.”
and from a recent short story:
“No one thought much of it at first—a little odd maybe but more just a small talk conversation starter: a solid week of rain and 65 degree temperatures in early February.”
So what do you think? How important is an opening line? How strong or weak are mine? Do any of them make you want to hear more?
Even if you are lucky enough to have a partner/family/friends as support, you still are mostly alone in your endeavors. And you are probably receiving more rejections (or worse no response at all) than you are paycheck and praise.
So with that in mind I’ll share with you an affirmation/self pep-talk I wrote for myself a few months ago:
I won’t waste my time being a victim. I won’t let negative people or thoughts distract me or hold me back. I know my worth and I won’t let myself or anyone else convince me I’m worth less. I won’t dwell in setbacks or let them slow me down. I’ll remember always who I am, what’s valuable in me. I’ll remember who I wanted to be, and work to become that person. I’ll be flexible in my expectations.
I am smart, I am kind, I am compassionate, I am talented, I am anything but average, I am stronger than most people. I have done things in my life so far that most people will only dream of, and the best is yet to come. I have within myself everything I’ll ever need.
A bad day is just that, one bad day. And when they add up to bad months and bad years, they won’t define my life, they will simply stand as markers for how much better things will be, and how sweet that will taste. I will have the capacity to truly appreciate my life because of my struggles.