I have a two-word mantra that guides my days. Choose love.
This morning I decided to put my blog on ‘pause’ for the next few weeks, or months. I’m not sure how long.
The reason is simple. I’m pausing for the sake of love of the book I’m writing. I love the story, love how the words are coming together, love the structure that is building itself as I write, love what is showing up to be expressed.
Don’t get me wrong. Loving how my book is growing doesn’t mean it isn’t work, because it is, and doesn’t mean it’s easy, because often it definitely isn’t. I want this book to be the best I’m able to create, and the combination of love, work, and not-easy tells me I need to focus my time and energy and creative power on one thing–the book.
It feels odd to think I won’t write my blog for the next few weeks or months. My blog and I have been writing partners for close on five years, and the weekly writing fills my heart. Yet, I know this is the right choice, and I trust what I feel.
I may change my mind and be back here sooner than I think. I really don’t know.
In the meantime, while my blog is on pause, thank you for the past five years, and bless you for reading the words and hearing my heart.
I have, on my
studio couch, a teddy bear. He is small,
about the size of my two hands laid side by side. He smells like dust, and he is old, older
I don’t know
who gave him to me. All I know is he has
always been with me.
I used to think
he was my sister’s bear, her toy that had somehow ended up in my collection of
childhood memories. One day I mentioned
him to my Mom, and she told me with certainty that the small fuzzy purple teddy
who now smells like dust was absolutely, definitely mine, a gift at my birth.
Here is a
memory I do not remember, yet it exists.
The physical proof sits here in my studio, this bear who I should know.
that I can have memories I do not recall.
Do I remember this tiny bear on my bed in our home, when I was not yet
old enough to go to school? Sort of, yet
I am not sure if this is a manufactured memory, or something true. I know his feel against my hands and face, and
I know he did not always smell like dust.
He smelled like someone’s perfume at one point in my childhood. I can smell it now, as I write.
Yes, my Nana’s
perfume. I feel like this bear was with
me at my Nana and Papa’s house, when I was very young. I was staying with them. I don’t know where my Mom and Dad were. Maybe visiting friends, maybe at a dance and
coming home very late. My parents loved
The only thing I
am completely sure of here is this bear, who I didn’t remember was mine,
smelled like my Nana’s perfume. How odd.
such strange things. That I can recall
with clarity this one small detail out of what must have been a thousand
details lost to me.
This bear is now faded to the colour of lilacs at the end of their life. I can see in the creases of his arms and legs and neck that his fur was once bright, more like the colour of the amethyst I have on the shelf behind me. A colour carrying light and love. Bright, deep, true purple, a joy to behold.
Why can I not
recall anything else about my purple teddy?
He must have
been precious to me once, if he came with me to my grandparents’ home to stay
overnight. I must have taken him to bed
with me, slept with him at my side or in the bend of my arm, warm under the
My Mom must
have packed him carefully in my bag. Or maybe
he stayed in my arms, or sat next to me, or on my lap as we travelled to Nana
and Papa’s house.
I am imagining
this ride in the car to my grandparents, imagining staying overnight. Imagining the smell of my Nana’s perfume, which
I know was Chanel No. 5, ending up on my teddy bear. Did my Nana hold him, hug him, and her
perfume moved from her body to his? Or maybe
we dabbed a little on him because I told my Nana she smelled good and I liked
how she smelled.
It always made
me feel good, the smell of my Nana’s perfume.
It makes me feel good now as I recall it, smelling her presence even
though she does not stand before me here in my studio.
Maybe this wondrous, mysterious old bear was a gift from my Nana and Papa. Likely my Nana who loved to shop and find perfect, joyful things for herself and those she loved. She loved me, unconditionally. I remember this with certainty.
There is joy in playing with this fraction of a memory about my old, small, purple bear. There is love in this imagining, too.
I see now I have claimed teddy as my own. He is no longer the bear, he is my bear.
With one word, I
shift this fraction of a memory and, with love, claim it as mine.
It is a gift,
taking this piece of memory and the physical object that began it, and making something
whole and perfect. Something that feels
It is love, no doubt of it. As real as my bear who sits on the studio couch.
There are days I’d like writing a book to be only writing. Pencil to paper. Fingertips to keyboard. Mind and heart to telling a story. That’s the best part.
I resist the other parts of writing a book, the planning
and organizing parts. I know they are as
essential as the actual writing. I do
them, but I can’t seem to convince myself to approach them with the same joy.
Already I can see this is about heart and head.
Telling the story, for me, is rooted in my heart. I feel it, and words flow from the feelings.
Planning and organizing are rooted in my head. I think, I don’t feel. No wonder the joy is missing. I find satisfaction here, but I’m in the
wrong place to expect joy. Silly me.
I need to find a way to partner my heart with my head when I approach the non-writing parts of book-making. Find a way to leave aside the resistance, and bring a peaceful curiosity to the work instead.
Much of the work I did during the Story Genius process was
planning and organizing, yet I didn’t resist.
I didn’t resist because I was learning something new, and I could see
and feel how this process was enriching and expanding the story I wanted to
My heart was invested in getting this done because it loved
the story I was creating.
Here is the key.
I love this story and I need to invest my heart in all the parts of creating it. I need to feel how all the work around the writing teaches me something new, and gives me the knowledge and experience to make me a better writer. I need to let myself be curious and enjoy exploring the possibilities around putting a story together.
Invest my heart. Feel how everything I do gives my story a base and bones to stand strong. Gives my story detail that offers connection for my readers. Gives my story flow that creates a living place for my readers’ imaginations.
The time I spend on planning and organization is not stolen
from the writing. It adds to it.
I’m not losing. I’m
gaining, and then my readers will gain too.
I’ve decided this societal norm is not my norm. In fact, believing this does me harm.
Here’s how my mind translates ‘bigger is better’.
If bigger is better, then I must always be reaching, and
never be satisfied or celebrating where I am now. I always have to be more, which really means I
am never enough.
I am never enough.
Because of this belief pattern, I set out to do too
much. Today I’ll get this, this, and
this completed for my book. Then, I don’t. I finish one or one-and-a-half.
Instead of celebrating what I have accomplished, I focus on
what didn’t get done. I tell myself off for
not working hard enough, for being too distracted, for being too slow a writer. I need to do better in order for others to
Funny, when I don’t even appreciate myself.
‘Not enough’ has been a pattern in my life since elementary school. It makes me sad to realize I am so unkind to myself, and that I’ve been doing it for so long I accept the unkindness as normal.
I would not do this to someone else. Instead, I would praise them, be excited for what they have accomplished. I’d encourage them to pause and enjoy it before setting off on the next step.
Why do I not say this to myself?
I have a lively life of which writing is a vital and essential part. But writing is only one part of my life, and it’s the fullness and variety in my life that enrich my writing.
I am a slow writer. I have days between working on my book, and each time I return to the book I bring with me new experiences and ideas, and a new understanding of myself. I am a better writer because of all else in my life. The balance of my life fills my well.
I trust my creative process. Even though I’ve been telling myself off for being too slow, I truly trust the process of my writing enough to create the book I am creating.
Now I need to transfer the trust of my creativity and writing into knowing Iam enough, and allow myself to enjoy my writing process in the midst of enjoying my life.
Last night I watched one of my favourite Christmas shows, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
This morning I woke thinking how, as kids in school, we labelled each other. Those labels did a lot of damage. Unlike Rudolph, some of us were never able to rise above the words we were called.
I love words. I love playing with words, putting them together and taking them apart. I love crossword puzzles, word games, and Scrabble. I love reading other people’s words and writing my own.
When I was thirteen years’ old and entering high school, my parents gave me a thesaurus. I never dreamed such a treasure existed. I read it cover to cover, like a novel.
My husband didn’t have a love affair with words. For him, it was much the opposite.
He struggled with words. He couldn’t make the connections between sounding out a word and spelling it. Spelling was a disaster for him. He had to consciously, repeatedly memorize the sequence of letters for each word. Otherwise ‘celery’ came out ‘clegery’, and ‘chimney’ was ‘chibmny’.
He was told he was stupid, and he felt stupid.
I know the English language has weird and wonderful word spellings, but his struggle was beyond that.
By the time my husband reached high school, he’d struck a deal with a friend who was an ace speller. His friend struggled to come up with ideas for writing assignments. My husband always had loads of ideas. So he provided his friends with ideas, and his friend spell checked my husband’s essays. Win win.
My husband is not stupid.
His brain came equipped with a different pathway to understanding words, sounds, and spelling. He had to find his own way, and did, into learning how to spell.
It’s so easy to stick a label on someone, easier than taking the time to consider the whole of the person standing in front of you and finding an understanding.
No one is stupid.
I have twenty years of experience as an artist, but ask me to sculpt something and the result would have you seriously doubting I have any artistic ability at all. I am a disaster at sculpture.
My brain doesn’t see and understand the way a sculptor needs to. What my brain naturally sees and understands is drawing. Give me paper and drawing materials, and I am a wizard.
I’ll say it once more.
No one is stupid.
This life is rich because of the uncountable paths we have for seeing and understanding.
I have a very old dictionary from Great Britain, a school discard dated 1954. It contains a definition for ‘stupid’ I find interesting. The dictionary defines it as ‘wanting in understanding’.
This definition surely describes me trying to sculpt and my husband trying to spell. We want to understand and are unable to.
There are other layers in this definition. We all want and deserve help and understanding from others when we are struggling. And for those who label others then walk away, describing the label-ers as having a ‘wanting of understanding’ works for me.
I have a pattern of not celebrating my successes. Mostly I ignore them, occasionally I allow myself to briefly enjoy them. Never do I allow myself full appreciation of what I have successfully completed, be it writing or drawing or anything else in my life. Always, I immediately move on to the next thing.
I’ve been wondering why I do this. Two days ago, I discovered a big reason.
In school, I was one of those brainy kids. The A’s on my report card came easily to me. Because of this, my teachers gave me extra enriched work, mostly math and science.
I loved, and continue to love, learning new things for the sheer enjoyment of it, but this was not something I chose for myself. I loved school, but this extra work felt like work, and I wanted to be with my friends playing and having fun. I rarely completed the assignments. The teachers eventually gave up, which was a relief for me.
In my child-mind, this experience created a belief that stuck in my subconscious.
I believed I was a failure.
I did not do the enriched work and become someone who changed the world through discovering amazing scientific things. I did not meet expectations. I did not fulfill my potential. It did not matter that the expectations and ideas regarding my potential belonged to someone else. As a child, I knew I was smart and I trusted my teachers, so I took this on as something reasonable.
When I look at my life now, I love where and who I am. I love love love drawing and writing. I love the learning I do, moving toward life with an open, creative heart. I love the family and friends I have around me. My life is good and I know I created this, which means yes I am successful at what I do.
I do not owe my school teachers or the world, or even myself, anything. I owe neither success nor failure.
I walked the path I needed to walk, so I could be exactly where I needed to be. As a child, love and joy were the most important choices I made for myself every day. I didn’t consciously realize what I was choosing, and I couldn’t articulate it. I didn’t realize love and joy could be choices, yet there I was choosing time with my friends as the most important thing.
That time with my friends shaped me. We read, traded books, made up stories, and played pretend. We drew and made things with whatever was at hand. We were creators who played, loved, and enjoyed what we created.
As I grew up, every choice I made, everything I was, everything I created led me here.
I appreciate what my school teachers did. Unknowingly, they pushed me into making my own choices, helped me find and experience the things that were right for me.
I know and feel how the words and images I create, the love and joy I share, the life I live changes the world around me. That is success.
I did not waste my potential. I have been fulfilling it all along.
Picture me standing knee deep in turquoise ocean waves. Bare toes, all ten, digging into the sand to keep balance. Leaning my body forward, a telescope to my eye, searching the horizon line.
I want to know what is out there, what’s beyond the range of my vision.
Writing a book has turned me into an explorer, and what I’m exploring is the edge of my creativity. How far can I push this seeming edge? How far can I expand my capabilities as writer and artist?
I’d always thought a project of several years’ length was beyond me. I’d get bored and dump it.
I was wrong. My curiosity for what is next in my book remains as bright as when I began. Not only am I curious about the book, I am curious about my creativity. It keeps changing, reaching and expanding. Every time a new idea shows up, it is something beyond what I have already done.
Helen Frankenthaler, an artist whose work inspires me, talked about not wanting to do something she already knew she could do. I feel the same way.
I don’t mean wildly leaping into complete unknown. I mean standing on what I know, reaching toward what I don’t know, combining the two, known and unknown, and experimenting.
My book project is becoming an experiment. As I complete the work in Lisa Cron’s Story Genius, my vision of the book is shifting. I see something that sits between all text and all image. Not a graphic novel, and not a standard word-only book. I am marrying my capabilities as artist and writer, and challenging myself to go further than what I already know.
As yet, I have little idea where this expanding vision of my book and my capabilities is taking me. My telescope shows me only the open space at the edge that is labelled “here there be dragons.”
I am curious about dragons. I hear they can fly, and some can be ridden. I hear they guard treasure and need to be coaxed to share. I hear they are made of fire. I hear they were invented by someone like me.
I want to write a dragon of a book. A book made of fire and treasure. A book that takes flight and I need to hang on and fly with it, the ride of my life. Guessing I may need asbestos pants in order to stick my seat. I’ll find some.
In the meantime, every day I learn something new about the edges of my book and my creativity. Today it is realizing my interest in my book remains firm, and this makes me happy. Today it is discovering my creativity is capable of handling both short and long term projects, and this makes me happy too.
Today I push out the far edge, and place my new knowledge there. Step forward and stand on the new edge of my creativity, lean forward and balance. Put the telescope to my eye, and see where my vision takes me next. There is an amazing dragon of a book out there, and it’s mine.
Yesterday afternoon was warm and sunny, and I did not resist. I took myself, my writing, and an iced decaf latte, outside to the porch swing. I spent most of the afternoon writing backstory for my book, working out why my main character wants what she wants, and laying out her defining misbelief that constantly throws her off track.
Halfway through the writing, I sensed something was off track and it wasn’t the character I was writing about. It was me. Somehow I lost the main point and sent myself chasing words down a side track.
I completed the piece anyways, and ended it with “Rats, rats, rats, this is wrong!”
It is not lost on me that I went off track writing about my character’s misbelief that sends her off track.
Today I will go back.
Again, I will write about my character wanting what she wants, and her tricky misbelief. This time I will deliberately aim the writing in a different direction, and see where I end up. But first, I’m going to reread what I wrote yesterday. There may be a gem of an idea I overlooked, one that really does have a place in the story. Even if I see no gem, I will keep the draft of what I think is wrong stuff.
I keep my drafts because of what I learned and use all the time as an artist. Sometimes mistakes point me in a direction I had not considered, and sometimes it takes me a while to see it.
I keep my drafts, even the ones that seem wrong, because they tell me where I have been in the story, and they remind me of what wasn’t working and what I didn’t want. Been there, don’t have to go there again.
I keep my drafts because of my Dad. He told me once, when I was fourteen and suffering through a high school course I felt was useless, that everything I learn I will use at some point in my life. I listened, and the words stuck.
So here I am, choosing to find a use for my wrong-stuff-writing, instead of judging it a wasted writing session and tossing the pages. Even if I discover no gem in the words, it prompted my blog post for today, and that is gem enough.
In this post:
I am using the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, Ten Speed Press, 2016, to guide me through my main character’s backstory. This book is definitely a gem. http://wiredforstory.com