Adventuring

The busier I get, the more I like to linger. I linger over the coffee pot in the morning, drinking up the steam. I linger in the lunch room, over a book I don’t have time to read. I linger in the shower and on the yoga mat and by my scooter as I’m leaving work in the afternoon.

These moments are me moments. Moments to notice things, to breathe. To watch the clouds, to sniff the air, to turn my mind to higher things than just the work of my hands.

Lately I’ve been lingering more and more by train tracks, those ugly rusted lines of metal, and I’ve been longing to go someplace. Honestly, this longing never leaves me, but it’s hard to find the time or the money to go. Planning complicates things. Planning adds snags to the equation, reasons to stay at home.

But then I found myself with a day off in the middle of the week and something whispered to me: this is your chance. Go.

And so I did. I jumped on a train in the early morning and I went. I followed the tracks up into the mountains, where the cool wind blows and plateaus and gullies are blanketed by trees.

I took a day. I went on an adventure.

 
        

And so I lingered. I looked, I listened, I ate far more than was good for me, and then I stayed a little longer, because two hours just wasn’t enough. The mountains do something to me. I feel freer, somehow, that close to the sky.

And after, after food and fires and lookouts and adventure, I stepped back on a train and let it carry me back down, to the city, and along the coast to home. I spent nine hours on a train that day, but it was worth it. And besides, the journey was half the point.


I’m writing a book set on a train at the moment, though “writing” sometimes seems too generous a word. Drafting, too, seems wrong because that to me implies logic and linear thought. Instead, I’m circling, dancing across the page, generating reams and reams of material, some of which I’ll use, most I’ll probably discard. It doesn’t bother me, really. This is the mulch, the fertilizer I’m sowing into the rich ground of my imagination, so that one day soon my crops will grow tall and proud. I’m preparing a way for the story to come.

Today, Laini Taylor released the very first scene she ever wrote for Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It bears only a small resemblance to the finished product, but you can see the seeds of what was to come. You can see the way she set her mind free to roam, to create, to ask questions she didn’t yet have answers to.

I think, sometimes, when we sit down and write “Chapter One” at the top of the page, we start creating borders in our mind. This is what a good first chapter should look like. This is how a story should begin. This is what has been done before. Sometimes we find ourselves wandering tired old paths, recreating stories we’ve told before, rather than starting something new.

It had never occurred to me that maps and petrol money and finding cheap accommodation wasn’t necessary to have an adventure. It had never occurred to me I could just step on a train and go. But oh, what a day I had when I did.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m lingering on the page, sniffing the air, turning my mind to higher things. I’m hopping on a train. I’m adventuring. I’m going someplace new.

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Adventuring

Happy Things for Lovely People

I started a new job a couple of weeks ago, one that keeps me largely occupied in the daylight hours. Life lately has been a long series of sunrises and sunsets, steam rising from endless cups of tea, quick fetch sessions with the puppy, and falling asleep on the couch when all is said and done. Winter, at least, has offered up some spectacular gloaming hours for me to enjoy in exchange for sun.

Among all this madness, some wonderful things have been happening for some people I adore. This writing life isn’t all I imagined it would be when I was small. Far more goes into it than most people ever see, so much work and heart and years and years of your life. Happily for me, I’ve met some wonderful writers to share the journey with, ups and downs and in-betweens. Hearing their happy news is as good as finding some of my own, because I’ve seen the journey. We’re in it together! So when I tell you this news is well-deserved, you know I mean it.

First up, there’s my critique partner Kip Wilson Rechea, who found me when I was on the verge of giving up some years ago. She tugged me back up to my feet and brushed the dust off my clothes and gently nudged me back onto the path. Tremendously talented and one of the hardest workers I know in this biz, I am so, so thrilled that a couple of weeks ago she found her agent match in Roseanne Wells of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. I’ve been telling Kip for years that big things are coming for her, and I’ve always believed this to be true. This is only the beginning, dear Kip!

Second, my other critique partner, Shari Green, published both her debut novel, FOLLOWING CHELSEA, and a short story in the anthology FALLING FOR ALICE. This writer shares my heart. I can’t explain it any better than that. And to see good things happening for her makes my soul glad. I’m so privileged to know you, Shari, and I can’t wait to see what’s coming around the corner!

Finally (but not finally, because there is so much good news coming, I can just feel it), last weekend I was so lucky to be able to attend the launch for my lovely friend Trinity Doyle’s debut YA novel, PIECES OF SKY. It was my very first book launch and such a wonderful experience to see a book find its home in the hands of so many enthusiastic readers. Trinity is a newer writer friend. We first met just after she signed with her agents, and a few months before I’d find an agent of my own. So many of my writer friends live on the other side of the world, and it’s truly amazing to have someone local to write and journey with. I’m so happy for you, Trin, and so blessed to have witnessed all the good stuff that’s come your way so far! Here’s to the future!

This is only a short list. My Twitter feed is bursting at the seams with goodness lately, and I miss much of it working the hours I do, but I just wanted to put some space aside on this old blog of mine to do a little celebrating with these people I love dearly. It’s not an easy path we walk, but we walk it together.

Your Mother and My Mother

Fear is the cheapest room in the house.
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,

For your mother and my mother
Were friends.

I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse again tomorrow.
We’ll go speak to the Friend together.

I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Pray
Somewhere in this world –
Something good will happen.

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.

Your soul and my soul
Once sat together in the Beloved’s womb
Playing footsie.

Your heart and my heart
Are very, very old
Friends.

– Hafiz, transl. by Daniel Ladinsky

Finally, a small gallery of goodness for May and some of June:

Happy days, lovelies.

Happy Things for Lovely People

The Narrow Path

I went hiking today along a trail that runs through a state park to the sea. It’s not a long walk, maybe an hour each way, but I took my time. I wasn’t there for the exercise. I was there for the view. 

 
The main trail was closed due to damage from the storm, so I took the access road, as suggested by the signs. It took me high over the hills to the northern end of a quiet beach, but it didn’t take me right down to the sand. It ended at a chain link fence and a rusted out car buried deep in the scrub. 

 
I was disappointed, sure, but I’d seen so many wonderful things already. I’d seen waterfalls and gullies, lagoons and vine-twisted trees. I’d seen huge flocks of willy wag tails and I’d seen the sea, even if I couldn’t touch it. So I started back up the path. 

   
  

  

 

Maybe I wasn’t paying attention the first time. Maybe I didn’t bother looking, so sure of the path I was on. But on my way back up the hill I found them, three or four tiny twisted paths leading down toward the sand. 

  
   
     

I almost missed the narrow path in favour of the well-trod one. I almost missed what I’d come to see. 

There are wonders along the wide path also, distractions and small moments of beauty. And the narrow path isn’t always easy. It’s muddy and twisted and the scrub crowds In to snag you. But looking back on my life I realise it was when I was walking on the narrow path that I was most truly happy. It was on the narrow path that I became (am becoming) the person I was meant to be. 

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” — E. E. Cummings. 

  

The Narrow Path

Declare Yo’self

It’s my birthday this week, so I’m slightly more neurotic than usual. Birthdays, for me, are less a celebration of my existence than a vehicle for self-evaluation. Depending on the year that’s been, this process can be wonderful or terrible. What have I done with this life of mine? Something great or something mediocre? How much closer am I to becoming the person I want to be?

It’s been an interesting year. There have been moments of failure and moments of triumph. International adventures and revelations that changed my whole life trajectory. I left one job and I’m about to start another. I began volunteering and experienced all the accompanying joy and heartbreak. And I grew one year older.

If there’s one big change I’ve noticed in myself, it’s that, far more than last year or the year before, I know who I am. Identity is not a fixed point, of course; I’m still growing, and I expect to keep on changing for the rest of my life. But I know my heart. I know what motivates me and what I require for happiness. And I’m not afraid to share that with other people.

I’ve been going through the induction process for a new job in the past few weeks and it’s been an interesting experience. Meeting so many new people in such a short period requires distilling yourself down to a few points of interest. How do you represent yourself to others? How comfortable are you in revealing the deepest parts of yourself?

We talked a lot about values in induction. One activity had us literally pinning our values to our sleeves and talking about them with the people around us. And, you know, we faced a choice there. We didn’t have to choose the things we valued most. No one would know if we discarded our deepest values in favour of something easier. Happiness, maybe. Everyone understands happiness. And a few years ago, maybe I would have.

But I know, now. I know who I am, I’m comfortable in myself, and I’m willing to pin my heart to my sleeve to share that with others.

Maybe growing older isn’t so bad after all.

USA Trip 2014/2015
USA Trip 2014/2015
Declare Yo’self

A Yoga Love Story

I never used to like yoga. It’s funny to think about now, when it’s become such a large part of my life. I use it to wake up in the morning. I use it to relax my body for sleep at night. I use it to prep my brain before every writing session. But it wasn’t always that way.

Growing up, I didn’t have the patience for it. I was looking for the quick fix for the perfect body and I couldn’t see how yoga, with its emphasis on slow movement and stretching, could get me there. Instead, I focused on cardio, pushing myself so hard every time I exercised it would be days before I’d want to try again. At the time, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t working. My weight (which was never as bad as my self-esteem insisted) never budged. It was years before I found a healthy way to incorporate fitness into my life.

You know that annoying thing people say about finding your partner? If you want love, stop looking. It seems so disingenuous, but there is a kernel of wisdom to be found there. The lesson isn’t to stop trying. It’s to change the way you think about love. It’s about becoming the person you need to be first, and trusting the rest will follow.

It works for fitness, too. My problem wasn’t that I wasn’t working out hard enough. It was that I wasn’t working out the right way. I needed to train my brain first before I could achieve my fitness goals. And that’s where yoga came in.

The first thing yoga taught me is there are no quick fixes. Yoga is about a long-term daily practice, improving a little bit day by day. Its emphasis on growth – from beginner to more advanced poses – taught me to accept myself in the stage that I’m at, while always looking forward to the future.

Yoga taught me to breathe again. I don’t know when I came upon the idea that breathing was a bad thing. Somehow, I’d linked it in my mind to panic, to stress, to hyperventilation, and I’d spent a lifetime trying to breathe as little as possible. But through yoga, breathing has become a way to master my stress. It’s a form of control, rather than a sign I’d lost control.

Yoga also taught me patience and self-control. I read an article the other day that said savasana (the final resting pose in most practices), with its emphasis on letting go of your thoughts and concentrating on the breath, actually exercises your prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls intense emotions and impulses. Over time, yoga increases your willpower. It helps you make better decisions and to better link your current actions to future outcomes – all things I lacked when I first started working out.

I could sit here forever listing all the ways yoga has changed my life, but perhaps the most obvious change (and the most surprising, for me) is the way it changed my body. I started yoga without expectations, wanting only to incorporate movement into my life even on the days I can’t walk or run. I thought maybe it might help me stretch my muscles and prevent injury from my more cardio-focused pursuits. But it’s done more than that.

Yoga helped me to accept myself the way I am. And then, somehow, I found myself with the body I’d always longed for. No, I’m not perfect, but I am strong. I’m at the goal weight I always had in my mind. I can stand on my freaking head, for goodness sake.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I can use this logic in the rest of my life. First change the mind, change the way you think about the problem, and then begin to work on fixing it. And more often than not, I find the problem was always my mind to begin with.

It’s a yoga love story.

P. S. Melanie Conklin wrote a great post about using savasana to find your heart as a writer. I’ve used it and it works. Yoga blows my freaking mind – and I say this as a former skeptic. Go check it out.

P.P.S. If you’re interested in getting started with yoga, a 30 days of Yoga challenge is a great way to begin. Here are two I love:
Yoga With Adriene
Erin Motz (a.k.a. The Bad Yogi)
And here’s one for men, starting in June:
Men’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge

Namaste!

A Yoga Love Story

No Wasted Words

A few things happen when I finish a book. First, the champagne. Second, a day or so of rest. And then, on the third day, I start writing again. 

I’m exhausted by this stage. My brain is alphabet soup, in no way fit for novel writing. But at the same time, I can’t not write. It’s a madness, writing. But the madness of not writing is worse.

There is a balance to be found between the need for rest and the need to write. And for me that balance lies in my “between books”. These are books written in an entirely different style than the book I’ve just completed. They’re often in a different tense or from an interesting viewpoint. They’re fun, uncomplicated things, and I sink into them like a hot bubble bath on a rainy night. 

I know some writers who would be horrified by this concept. Words, to them, are sacred things. They’re precious, and shouldn’t be squandered. But to me these stories are absolutely necessary, and besides, there are no wasted words. 

Perhaps I’ll never show these books (or portions of books as I don’t always reach the end before the next book calls) to my agent, perhaps I’ll never revise, shine them up to a publishable state, but they’re still teaching me something. Even as my brain rests, losing itself in a story it will never be troubled to fix, I’m gaining new skills. 

And sometimes these books do become something. Sometimes I’ll steal a plot line, a character. One day maybe one of my between books will prove so enticing I’ll want to push through to the end and spend months polishing it up. But for now? They’re just for me. 

I hold this same attitude about my non-writing life as well. Not all projects come to a satisfying conclusions. Not every endeavour works out. But they’re still important. They’ve still taught me something: about life, about hard work, about the person I want to be. I use them in stories, the emotions that come with failure and heartbreak, the people I meet. And I become stronger, disappointment by disappointment, unfinished tale by unfinished tale. 

No wasted words. No wasted experiences. Just a long process of becoming. Just cycles of productivity and rest. Just a life fully lived. 

  
 

No Wasted Words

Social Media for Writers

Redhead May 1
Last week Joss Whedon, writer, director and all-round cool guy, quit Twitter rather suddenly. The speculation was that he left because of criticism of his interpretation of Black Widow in  Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Joss shot that theory down. According to Joss, he abandoned the Twittersphere because of all the noise that it brings:

“I just thought, Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place,” he said. “And this is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life. … It’s like taking the bar exam at Coachella.” (Joss Whedon as quoted on Buzzfeed)

It’s an issue I’ve been grappling with myself. How do you write when every article that pops up on Twitter is either attacking your genre or declaring the death of the industry? How do you keep up with a hundred different conversations happening between your three hundred friends every single day? How do you block out the noise and write?

That’s not to say there aren’t wonderful things about social media. Writing is a lonely pursuit. I’m doubtful I ever would have made it this far without the warm, generous, amazingly talented friends I met online. If I’d never read those blog posts about writers overcoming obstacles to achieve great success, who knows if I’d have ever overcome my own obstacles. If I hadn’t seen the courage of my writer friends day after day, who knows if I’d have found courage of my own.

But.

For creative people the world can be fairly neatly divided into things that feed us and things that take from us. Things that aid the work and things that are destructive towards it. And, if we let it, social media can set up camp in the second category and never leave.

Part of the problem for me is I’ve always been that girl at the party standing in the corner, holding her purse. I’m easily overwhelmed in large group situations. With so many voices clamoring to be heard, who will ever hear mine above the din? With so many amazing, bubbly, funny people in the room, how can this quiet, introspective girl ever find her voice to speak?

I’ve been mulling this over for about a year and I’m finally coming to some conclusions. If I haven’t been around as much, that’s why. For me, taking a step back was key to finding my way forward. Rather that just being swept up in the tide, I’m going to cultivate a social media experience that works for me.

 My Social Media Manifesto:
– Simplify
– Aids my creative process rather than taking from it
– Suits my personality
– Connects me with friends (and one day hopefully readers)
– Adds to the world in a positive way

Here’s what that means for me:

Simplify
This refers to both design and approach. I’ve always worked better in a clean environment, so I’ve changed my blog format to reflect this. I also want to change what kind of things I post, and where. More on that below.

Aids my creative process rather than taking from it
Pinterest and Instagram have done great things for me lately. I love how they allow me to create and cultivate beauty, and I plan to use this as I move forward with my blog. Look forward to shorter, more frequent posts that merge my twin joys of visual media and writing.

Suits my personality
I love Twitter for many reasons, but lately I’ve been struggling to make it through my feed. Some days I don’t look at it at all — it’s too overwhelming. But if large groups of people make me uncomfortable, why not find a way to break those large groups down into smaller, more narrowly defined spaces? I’ve started using TweetDeck and I can’t recommend it enough. Now, my critique partners and IRL friends are in their own list so I never miss their news. My hockey friends are in another, news sources in a third. There is a list for industry folk, for when I’m in the mood, and one for writers at a similar stage to me in the publishing process. I choose which room I visit on any given day and suddenly I can breathe again. Expect to see me on Twitter more often now.

Connects me with friends (and one day maybe readers)
Friendship is, after all, the point of social media. I want to find ways to continue to keep up with the people I’ve made personal connections with online, while isolating the non-helpful voices. Lately the room has felt so loud I can’t even hear the voices of my friends. I want to change this, and TweetDeck is helping.

Another thing I’ve considered, but am still unsure about, is mirroring posts on Tumblr. I know it’s a great way to make connections and reach readers, but I don’t know if I’m ready to keep up with another site, or if my posts really belong over there. I’m pretty happy just hanging in my little corner of the world, even if Twitter likes to inform me blogs are dead (mine’s still kicking!)

Adds to the world in a positive way.
Original content is important to me (another reason I’m unsure about Tumblr). Connecting to people on an individual level is important to me. Sharing my true self, rather than a social media mask, is vital to my happiness. If I’m going to contribute to the online world, I want what I say to be important.

I suppose what it all comes down to is this: Doing one thing joyfully is better than doing five things half-heartedly. I really believe that. Choose the things that grow you. Social media is your online home; cultivate it carefully.

If something is hurting you creatively, cut it out without mercy. Writers feel a lot of pressure to promote themselves, but none of this helps you if you have nothing to promote. Do the work. Ignore the rest as best you can.

I really encourage you, if you’re a writer feeling the pressure to join the social media train, to sit down and figure out what you really want out of the experience. Make sure the life you live online helps you live a full, creative, joyful life. Don’t accept anything less.

So tell me, friends, how do you balance social media and your own creative pursuits?

Social Media for Writers