Four years ago, I attempted a goal for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Since I write nonfiction, not novels, I participated as a “rebel”, which meant I wouldn’t try for 50,000 words but instead would come up with a goal of my own to attempt during the month of November. You can read more about that goal here: Daily Writing and NaNoWriMo
This year, I will again create my own goal that I want to achieve. I wrote about my desire to get back to journaling a few weeks ago and after reading this article by Michael Hyatt, in which he suggested sticking with the habit for 30 days, it occurred to me that November would be the perfect month to work on that habit.
This morning I wrote out my NaNoWriMo goal for 2021:
I will write in my journal for 30 days, every day in the month of November, even if it’s only a few lines, to redevelop that rhythm of daily writing.
One of the things I cover with my writing group every year is that preparation for NaNoWriMo leads to better success in reaching your goal. Following that advice, I’ve chosen a “template” to use. By asking myself the same questions every morning, I won’t have to stare at a blank page, wondering what to write. On busy mornings, perhaps I’ll only choose one question to answer, while on weekend mornings, I’ll have time to answer all eight.
Also, I’ve decided to not limit myself to one particular medium but instead, I will write by hand in my paper journal, on my phone when I’m out, or on my computer, if it’s handy. In other words, my goal here is to capture my thoughts each day in whatever means possible.
Now, this won’t be my only writing since I’m still working on regularly posting here and also working slowly on my book project. That’s one of the reasons I’m not being too perfectionistic about how I get my journal writing done each day.
Will you be participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a regular journaling habit? I’d love to hear how you fit writing into your day.
Earlier this month, I was gathering ideas to share with the writers group at the library. Our topic for August was Feeding Your Creativity, an idea I first read in Wild Words by Nicole Gulotta. During my research, I discovered this great article on creativity based on an old book from 1939. Artists and writers looking for creativity is apparently not a new concept!
The author of the book listed five steps to cultivating creativity:
Gathering raw material
Digesting the material
The A-Ha Moment
Idea Meets Reality
As I thought about this five step process, I realized that I follow these steps almost unconsciously when I think about my writing, work on a Bible study, plan my goals for the next quarter, and a host of other creative and thinking work.
In her video, Shaye is talking about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I started reading but quit partway through because I never conquered morning pages. I tried so many times on my own and did something similar last winter during a writing class. However, the pain in my hands when I write with a pen for more than a few minutes keeps me, mentally and physically, from maintaining that habit. Julia Cameron’s insistence that it must be pen and paper makes sense to me intellectually and the lovely piece of writing on the beauty in pain that came out of the exercise last winter both keep me thinking about this. But until I conquer the very real mental or emotional barrier of my fear of the pain, I know that I won’t do morning pages.
Consequently, I’ve decided to adapt these ways of capturing creativity to make it work for me where I am right now. Rather than just give up, which has been my tendency, I’ve come to the conclusion that if writing is important to me, and it is, then I have to do what works and stop trying to live someone else’s ideal process.
Here is how I plan to use these steps to feed my creativity:
Raw material – This is not a problem. I read so much and so widely that I’m always gathering raw material. The challenge is to organize it for easier retrieval. I have a system that I’m working on but that is for another post.
Digesting the material – I think this is where the morning pages will come in. Rather than fuss myself about doing it by hand, I’ve decided to just type my thoughts. Perhaps this is not optimal but it’s better than not doing anything at all, a sentiment echoed in this article by a leadership coach for lawyers.
Unconscious processing – This requires silence and solitude, which are hard to find in the world today but not impossible. A combination of weaning myself off of social media, planning in slots of reflective time, and adding in more walks, some of which I will make thinking walks, should give me time for the processing that is crucial to idea generation.
The A-Ha moment – I have a small notebook and/or my phone with me all of the time so that when the ideas hit, I’m ready for them. In the past, I’ve jotted down words and phrases on a slip of paper, dictated my thoughts to Siri as I drove, sent myself an email, added a note to my phone, and scribbled down thoughts for a new direction in my notebook. Writing down ideas as they strike is a discipline that is well worth cultivating for every creative. I wrote more about this in my post A Writer’s Notebook.
Idea meets reality – Make time for regular writing! Two other ideas from Julia Cameron’s book are to have a creative date with yourself every week and to practice your art regularly. For me that looks like having a book on writing that I read for an hour a week, as a minimum, and sitting down every day to write—morning pages, a blog post draft, my journal, a book draft—whatever it is to get the words on paper and develop the discipline of showing up to my art.
Have I perfected this process? Not at all. However, the steps are in place and now I need to walk in them. If I can do it, so can you!
Do you think these five steps to creativity are helpful? Do you write morning pages either by hand or electronically? Please share your practices in the comments so we can all learn to live the creative life together.
According to the weather report, we may be getting our first snow since Christmas Day. I love watching the snow fall and feeling cozy with a cup of tea. I always feel a bit more relaxed and ready to take time for reading and reflection.
Here are some interesting things I read and listened to this month:
Why Is It So Hard to Think? The reason deep thinking requires time and space is because deep thinking is work. It takes energy to sift through thoughts and put them in some kind of order, spring cleaning the attic at the top of my body, forcing my way through cobwebs and unexpected memorabilia to stay on task.
Cancelling Chaucer – Apparently he’s no longer relevant for today’s students although this poet disagrees. Let’s hope that wiser heads will prevail and old books will be added back into the learning of our young people.
Winter Trees – I have a fondness for trees in the winter time, stark against the sky, and my favorite movement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is Winter, but there’s no doubt that winter can be hard. Here’s a bit of help to make it through until spring.
The Stories Between Us podcast – This new-to-me podcast is delightful. A husband and wife, both writers, talk together on the writing life with wisdom and compassion and fun. I’m currently working through the back episodes and have enjoyed every one.
The Well Read Poem podcast – This new podcast is perfect for those of us wanting to add more poetry to our lives. Thomas Banks not only loves poetry, he understands it and can explain the mystery behind the words. Also, he reads beautifully! I highly recommend this one.
Although his podcasts are LONG, I still listen to Cal Newport’s The Deep Life regularly. Recently, he has started doing a deep dive on a specific topic at the beginning of each episode. His first topic, The Deep Reset, was very helpful for those of us wanting to add in more depth to our work and life. At some point, I believe he will string these all together into a single video. In the meantime, if you listen to the first several minutes of each of these podcast episodes, you can hear the whole thing: Episodes 49, 51, 53, 55, and 57.
Last year, my husband and I consolidated our music app subscriptions to one: Apple Music. However, I wasn’t thrilled at how hard it was to find good classical music with full pieces all together, not jumbled up in classical-lite playlists. Enter Concertino, a free app that I now have on my phone and my computer. I logged in with my Apple account and can choose any composer, genre, or time period. I can listen to a specific piece of music or set up a radio station. I am loving it and now I’m loving Apple music, too.
I hope you find these articles, podcasts, and app useful. If one of them is especially helpful to you right now, please share in the comments.
October was a busy month. My son got married in another state, which required planning, travelling, and quarantining afterward. Then, a few days ago, I was in charge of a virtual conference that has taken a lot of time and work this past month to plan and coordinate all the moving parts.
Added to those two big things, a third big event was the reopening of library access to the public, which requires a lot more time in the library branches. I’m so happy to see and help our community again in person, albeit masked and socially distanced.
However, I have still carved out to read and listen to various articles and podcasts. Here are some of my favorites:
Feed the Better Hunger – I used to tell my boys that taking in too much “junk food of the mind” is as bad for your brain as eating too much junk food is for your body. Glenna Marshall writes about what we should be hungering for in this article. We need to intentionally learn to love what is good for us and this article points us in the right direction.
6 Tips to Help You Tackle the Classic Novel – Anne Bogel gives six great ideas on how to read that classic from high school that you skipped. I 100% agree about trying it on audio. I finally managed to read Moby Dick several years ago by listening to the audio, and Heart of Darkness was much more manageable when read by Kenneth Branagh.
Your Devotional is Not Your Bible – As usual, Jen Wilkin encourages the reading and study of God’s Word over everything else: “Devotional writing, when done with excellence, may supplement our time in the Scriptures, but it must not subordinate or supplant it.”
The Hidden Discipline of John Stott – This is an inspiring, convicting article. If I was half as disciplined in my reading and writing as John Stott was, I’d be a first class scholar. Definitely something to aspire to!
Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It? – A longish article on the need for fact checking nonfiction books and the lack of industry standards. This was interesting to me as I’m currently working on a nonfiction book and anyone who is also writing nonfiction might want to give it a read. Fact checking and copy editing are not the same thing, and I had been thinking about how to make sure my facts were correct (important when you work in research for a living!) when I saw this article.
As I mentioned in my last post, I had hoped to finish Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell by the end of October and I did. I think this was my favorite fiction book in 2020. The combination of historical detail, rich characterization, an inventive plot, magical realism, and deep, deep emotions left me with a huge book hangover and food for thought for weeks. If you like Shakespeare or you like historical fiction, you will like this book.
A podcast on the three stages of creative work: friction, flow, and finalization – At the beginning of episode 37, Cal Newport talks about how all creative work has these three stages, what each stage entails, and how to push through to complete your project. I’ve often said that writing is 25% thought, 25% drafting, and 50% editing/polishing. Even if my percentages are a bit off, it was nice to know that I’m not the only one who has noticed that the majority of the project is not the fun drafting part.
Here is just a sampling of what I’ve been reading and listening to this past month.
I love the idea of a bullet journal, and I do use the method for my book journal. However, I like having a planner with all of my goals built in, a journal for books and reading, a notebook for notes, and a journal for quotes, prayers, thoughts, processing, etc. It works better for me. So many people love the bullet journal method that I may try again one of these years. Here are two articles on Bullet Journaling that came up in my reading this month for those of you who want to give it a try. If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes.
I love Agatha Christie’s novels and thought I had read them all until I found this list recently. If I had ever read The Mystery of the Blue Train, I didn’t remember it at all. Are there any titles on the list that you want to try?
This article reminded me of the discussions I used to have with my children about the importance of what they read and watched. The things we take in eventually come out in our living, our words, and our actions as well as in our writing and artistic pursuits. What are you taking into your mind and heart these days?
Rarely does a week go by when I don’t listen to a podcast or lecture on theology or the Bible. One of my favorites apps is from Ligonier.org because of all of the great content. Recently, I’ve been listening to Dr. Derek Thomas’s series on Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s not my first time listening to it and it won’t be my last, but every time I listen, I learn something new about Scripture, about Bunyan, and about our God. It’s a bit pricy, but you can watch the first lecture for free on the site and then wait for the series to go on sale. I always get the audio download so I can listen on my app on the go, but there is also a CD and DVD.
I appreciate Karen Swallow Prior’s books and after reading On Reading Well, I sometimes wished I could take a literature class with her. While that’s not a possibility, I found a way to listen to her wise insights when she was a guest host on a literature podcast I enjoy, Close Reads. She and two other literature lovers and teachers walked through Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. If you don’t like Jane Austen, try one of the other books they’ve read through together. I’ve discovered some new favorites, and I bet you will, too. Here’s a link to the first episode:
Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments, if you found any of these links interesting or helpful.
Last week I was reading a blog post by a friend, in which she said that she was feeling that rock bottom has a basement. The definition of rock bottom is the “lowest of the low.” Yet my friend felt that life had managed to go even lower than the lowest possible place.
In Psalm 88, the Psalmist is also in that place beyond the lowest low:
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves. vv. 6-7
In fact, unlike the other Psalms that start in despair and end up on a positive note, Psalm 88 ends:
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness. v. 18
The alternative meaning in Hebrew is darkness has become my only companion. The Psalmist has no hope left. There is nothing for him. He is in the black dungeon of Giant Despair. He’s with my friend in the basement of rock bottom.
If we left him (and Christian and my friend and us) there in that dungeon, then what would be the reason to go on? Where is there hope for the Psalmist or for any of us?
This man feels that God is against him, that there is nothing in life that’s good, that his soul is full of trouble, that he has no strength, that he has been forgotten by God, that his friends have all abandoned him and view him as a horror, that the only companion, the only friend he has is darkness, and that the only place lower is death.
However (praise the Lord, there is a however), despite all of these feelings and circumstances of darkness and feeling forgotten by God, the Psalmist still cries out to God, he still has the small kernel of faith that looks to God in the darkness and believes that He hears and that He cares.
Jesus says, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. (Matthew 17:20)
In our dark places, the tiny seed of faith that the Lord has given us strengthens us to turn to Him, the Light of the World, and cry out, pleading with Him for light, for hope, for salvation. When we are in the dark, we need only to remember to look for the light.
Despite the seeming hopelessness in this Psalm and in our lives, there are glimmers of light if we look closely enough. The glimmers of God’s promises:
He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)
Even if a mother could forget her nursing child, God will never forget us (Isaiah 49:15)
We are inscribed on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16)
He will with us in the waters and walk with us in the fire (Isaiah 43: 2)
He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)
He rejoices over us with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
As we focus on these promises, even if the circumstances are still hard and our road seems endlessly black, we begin to see the glory of our Father’s face shine out in the gloom, the fingers of sun gleaming through the cracks of the dungeon walls, and to believe again in His love poured out for us in Christ. We start to grasp that if God is for us, which He is in Christ, who could be against us. We take shelter in His love and in His protection. And we take hold of the glorious truth that Christ is sufficient and will always be sufficient for all our needs, no matter what is occurring in this world. If we have Christ, then we have eternity and glory and unfailing love from our God.
Charitie Lees Bancroft wrote:
When Satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look and see him there,
who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
my sinful soul is counted free;
for God, the just, is satisfied
to look on him and pardon me,
to look on him and pardon me.
Christ has become wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us. (I Corinthians 1:30) If He has done all this, how will He not also give us all things. (Romans 8:31)
As Christian lay in the dungeon, he prayed and the Lord reminded him of the promises of God, and these promises were the key that allowed Christian and Hopeful to escape into the sunshine. My friend, too, acknowledged that God’s light still shines even when it is clouded over by life’s circumstances and she can’t see it at that moment.
What about you, friend? Are you in the darkness of the basement of rock bottom? Do you feel abandoned, forgotten, and alone in your hard times? Can you see no hope and no light and no escape?
Go to Jesus. He loved you enough to die for you, He stands at the throne of God and pleads your case, He will give you all that you need to walk with Him in this life, and He will come and take you home to be with Him, basking in the sunshine of His love for eternity.
Each week, I send articles to a website that sends me a collection of articles to read in a single document for my kindle. This helps prevent me from falling down “rabbit holes” when I should be doing something productive but allows me to keep reading interesting things from around the web. Here are a few of the articles I’ve read this past month:
Many of us are still working from home, which can make the work/home lines bleed together a bit too much at times. This article is a helpful look at the benefits of unplugging from work and other online pursuits: http://lauraearnest.com/unplugging/
Although I’ve been a Christian for many years, prayer is still difficult for me at times. Lectio Divina has been one way, through two prayer apps a friend suggested, to focus on the Lord each morning: https://www.24-7prayer.com/ancientprayerrhythms
I subscribe to several podcasts, some of which I listen to every single episode and some of which I dip into once in a while when the episode sounds applicable to my life or I want to know more. Here are some episodes I found particularly useful or interesting this past month:
I just found the Redeeming Productivity podcast this summer and am slowly working my way through the back episodes. This recent episode was helpful in thinking about how contentment doesn’t have to interfere with ambition and productivity: https://www.redeemingproductivity.com/feed/podcast
I have loved all of the episodes of Help Me Teach the Bible with Nancy Guthrie, but I found this one especially fascinating as she talked to Andrew Sach about Elijah and Elisha and their foreshadowing of the New Testament: https://feeds.simplecast.com/TtKQNBCJ
Cal Newport, author of one of my favorite productivity books, Deep Work, started a new podcast this year. This is his kickoff episode. Don’t let the length scare you. He addresses multiple questions in each episode, which means you can listen for 10-20 minutes and then leave it until the next time without losing the thread of a discussion. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to do focused knowledge work for their job or personal projects. His humor is a bit nerdy, which adds to the fun: https://feeds.buzzsprout.com/1121972.rss
When I’m trying to focus on work or writing, sometimes I need silence and sometimes background music helps. Eric Nordhoff is an artist I discovered recently, whose music is uplifting and great for focusing:
When my boys were young, they would bring me “junk” books on our weekly library trips. It wasn’t that the books were that bad, but especially during the school year, I wanted them to read better books. I would tell them that just as our bodies grow and remain healthy with good, nutritious food and just a little bit of “junk”, so our minds grow and remain healthy with well-written, edifying books and a small side of light reading (mostly comic books and thriller type books). We added those type of books in sparingly, and the boys soon learned to read them occasionally rather than regularly. A steady diet of “junk”, whether mental or physical, leaves us feeling sluggish and unhealthy. With so many choices of reading (and listening) on the internet, I’ve started instituting the same rule for my online reading.
To help keep your mind and heart full of enriching words, here are some articles and a podcast I found helpful this week:
Whether you are studying the Bible on your own, in a small group, or teaching it to others, listen to this podcast. Lane Tipton and Nancy Guthrie discuss the importance of teaching and studying the Bible in the context of the big themes God has given us in His Word.
The internet is filled with many things and none of us have time to read it all. However, I do try to read some of what is being published each week in order to keep up with the conversations that are happening in the world as well as to grow in my understanding and knowledge.
Here are a few articles that I found particularly helpful and/or interesting this week:
In the midst of reading and studying Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word this summer, I am becoming increasingly convicted that regular time in God’s Word is essential and that studying with others is better than going it alone. This article has good reasons why we should start a Bible Study group.
Since I am at work all day, it is easy to lose sight of what I was meditating on in the morning, writing the day before, or reading last night at bedtime. This article was encouraging to me and gave me ideas for refreshing my thinking and creative thoughts even in the middle of a workday.
Anyone who knows me has probably heard me talk about this podcast. It covers theology, Bible knowledge and understanding, and more theology. The banter is fun but not mean-spirited and the three hosts, Jen Wilkin, JT English, and Kyle Worley, know their stuff. This is the most recent podcast with special guest Dr. Ligon Duncan from Reformed Theological Seminary. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough.