Finding Simplicity and Slowness Amid Change

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The past few months have brought a great deal of change into my life. Where do I even start?

Townhouse renovations. Job hunting. Getting a job offer. Starting an awesome new job at a local library, which I am loving so far.

Dealing with a mystery illness for which doctors have yet to determine a cause, despite numerous appointments and tests. Battling joint pain, headaches, and sheer exhaustion.

Revising my novel Spellfire’s Kiss. I feel like this story is so close, and I’m getting ready to send it a fellow author who’s going to do some editing for me. The goal is to send the polished manuscript to her by October 1. The next goal is to start submitting it early next year, depending on the extent of changes based on her suggestions.

Where do simplicity and slowness fit into this? In the past few weeks, I’ve found a great deal of satisfaction in my new work environment, and continued making slow but steady progress on my writing, even with the frequent downtime and rest breaks required by whatever illness has got its hooks in me. Physically, I often feel worn down, and I’ve burned out before, so I’m trying to make time for myself.

So, how have I been keeping things simple and slow?

One: I try to wake up early enough before work (even though I am not a morning person) that I give myself time to sit with a cup of tea or coffee and just relax before I plunge into my day.

Two: Naps are my friend. If I come home from work and I need to rest, I give myself that time. Health is number one.

Three: I’m allowing myself time to adjust to this new schedule. Slowing down and cutting myself slack in other areas, thus allowing me to focus on my health and on adapting to my new life of library work and writing. And making time for all of those other things: playtime and snuggles with my animals. Quality time with my hubby. Spending time with friends. Reading and writing. Other things, such as trying new recipes and long walks in the woods, have fallen away since I’ve been sick, but I am hopeful that I can slowly add those things back into my routine soon.

I am trying to lead a slow, simple, purposeful life in the midst of a busy world. I believe things come into our lives when we’re ready for them. We have to work for them, of course, but we also can’t force things.

In my quest for simplicity, I’d like to add a few minutes of meditation into my daily routine. In search of simplicity, I am letting go of a quest for perfection. The house might be a little messy. Not every room is perfectly decluttered. Not every meal is homecooked from scratch.

Ultimately, I am learning that true simplicity lies not in living some picturesque life in which I rise early, bake bread, cook every meal from local ingredients, and live in a Pinterest-ready minimalist home. True simplicity is sipping tea and reading a good book. Keeping my possessions at a level that’s adequate without becoming overwhelming, and working, a little each day, toward my goals. Spinning and sharing stories that bring people joy and inspiration. Working toward a small, simple house filled with love, creativity, and whimsy. Maintaining my health. Staying close to my values and purpose.

I ask myself on a regular basis if something is in line with those values and that purpose. Writing books? Definitely. Working at a library? Solid yes. Saving up for a little cottage with a yard? Absolutely. Decluttering bit by bit? Yes.

But sometimes I fail. Eating take-out when I should be making a simple meal at home. Letting things slide until they become an overwhelming mess. Forgetting to let myself rest. Not doing yoga as regularly as I should.

When that happens, I’ve learned not to beat myself up. I simply regroup and make small course corrections. That’s the key. Tiny changes. Ten minutes of yoga or stretching. A little bit of money added to a savings account. Rising thirty minutes earlier to sip tea and be alone with my thoughts. Adding a new, healthy, easy recipe to my repertoire.

I have entered a season of change. But aren’t most seasons? Aren’t the seasons themselves a reminder of life’s constant state of change?

The key, I’m finding, is to find our true north. Call it purpose, principles, values, mission. The key is self-knowledge, and readjusting a little each day so we keep it always in our sights.

What about you? Have you had periods of intense change in your life? How did you stay grounded and focused on your values?

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The Importance of the Pause: Failure, Patience, and Persistence in the Writer’s Journey

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If the first half of 2018 had a theme for me, it would be deepening. I have embarked on a journey toward simplicity and intentional living. This goes beyond the act of physical decluttering to include thinking carefully about what I devote my time and energy to.

You may have noticed that I’m blogging less frequently, and that’s because I want to create more thoughtful posts instead of just saying, “Well, I haven’t posted on the blog this week” and feeling obligated to whip something up.

I’ve heard we’re supposed to blog as many as three times a week, and I just can’t do that. My energy level and the maintenance involved in several chronic medical conditions don’t mix well with maintaining that schedule—not if I want to devote myself to writing fiction and deepening my craft.

And just as I’ve been deepening other aspects of my life, I’ve embarked on the same journey with my fiction. I have several WIPs that are close, but I really need to deepen the emotions, to help readers connect with what the characters are feeling. In support of that, I’m taking a course on deep POV and reading books on that aspect of the craft.

I have slowed down. I’ve let go of word-count goals and am trying to allow each project to unfold in its own time. To do otherwise felt like trying to force the leaves to unfurl in the spring. Unnatural and troublesome to say the least.

And what this deepening has taught me most of all is a hidden patience I didn’t know I possessed. I’ve always been goal-driven, a go-go-go sort of person. And I’m still goal-driven, but I’m also allowing things to happen naturally, in their own time.

Truthfully, I still sometimes find myself glaring at my stories, shaking my fist and mentally shouting, “Why aren’t you working?”

But now I step back. I pour myself a glass of cold-brew coffee or brew some tea and I practice the art of staring. I ask the characters to whisper to me. One thing that emerged from the workshop on deep POV, for example, is that one of my WIPs lacks a sense of urgency. What’s the “so-what” of the story?

How have I spent five years working on the story and not seen that flaw? Because that’s half a decade spent with this story, off and on, and I love these characters, and my love for them means that them getting their favorite flavor of ice cream is a big enough so-what. That might be enough for the author, but it’s not enough for readers.

My husband suggested making it an epic fantasy—you know, baddy wants to take over the world or destroy it. Initially, I decided to run with that idea. But the more I thought about it, that didn’t fit in with the main theme of the story or the heroine’s character arc.

I sat. I waited. I sipped. And then the MC whispered. Eureka!

That is the power of patience. That is the power of persistence. That is the power of allowing life and art to unfold naturally.

When we slow down, we create space for the magic to happen.

Take, for example, another WIP, a novel in which I was racing toward the midpoint. And then something felt off. I could’ve pushed through, shoved my characters into a storyline that didn’t quite feel right.

Instead I stopped. I listened. I realized that, one, the storyline had veered off in the wrong direction. And, two, that I needed the hero’s POV as well as the heroine’s to ground the reader.

I’ve been reading Anne R. Allen’s blog, and she has written some lovely posts about the subject of slow writing, slow blogging, etc.

Our society wants fast. We’re trained to want everything now. No, not now. Yesterday.

And I’m just saying, it’s okay to take our time. I’m no longer racing through my goals, crossing WIPs off some master list like a one-woman story factory. My process is slower.

The day I threw away my busy badge, I became free. The day I gave myself permission to fail, I learned to fly. The day I released arbitrary, meaningless goals, I made space for real goals that are in line with my values.

And so, as the second round of ROW80 in 2018 draws to a close, what have I accomplished?

I’ve discovered Wild Tarot, the first in a trilogy about three women learning to embrace a magical destiny, and written 25K in my first attempt at that story.

I’m enrolled in a workshop on deep POV and completing assignments associated with that course. I’m also doing an intensive study of deep POV on my own and trying to master this aspect of the craft.

I’ve worked out some plot problems with two other WIPs as well and am preparing to revise those in round three.

What about you? Are there areas of your life in which you’ve slowed down? How have you learned to slow down and be patient yet persistent?

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Living in the Deep: What it means to live a slow, passionate, creative life

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In the past few years, I have been trying to strike a careful balance between opening myself up to the world, fully living in it, and living slowly. There have been missteps along the way. Taking a part-time job quickly turned into an energy suck. But letting go of it made space for the opportunity to teach English as a second language, which quickly unlocked a passion for working with underserved communities. I almost made the mistake of joining every writing group I could, but I’m trying to choose those that best serve where I’m at now in my writing career.

We can’t be everything to everybody. We have to choose a few things and do those really well. And we all have varying levels of energy. Some people can function in a high-energy state of overdrive with very little downtime. I, personally, suffer from several chronic medical conditions that are in and of themselves part-time jobs. They require management, attention, and downtime.

When I was in undergraduate, my journalism professor told me, when it came to opportunities, “You’re the belle of the ball. Dance with everyone.” And that was fantastic advice for a twenty-year-old. I went to grad school, interned at a daily city newspaper, had lots of awesome experiences.

But then I entered adulthood, post-college, and kept doing it. I was working three jobs and volunteering. I experienced a level of burnout that took a lot of recovery. I was exhausted and sick and no one could figure out why. “Maybe try doing less,” my doctor suggested when all the tests turned up nothing.

So, I did. I started focusing exclusively on writing. And then, later, I added in teaching ESL. I’d like to start fostering for the animal shelter again, if my husband is up for it.

I make time for slowness in my life. Some of the best parts of my day are those sunny afternoons when the animals and I just chill in the backyard. It’s actually very little sitting. It’s mostly herding cats and stopping the dog from digging, but it is so wonderful. It’s my happy place. Well, one of them, anyway.

I make time for moments that involve nothing but me, a comfy spot to sit, a warm blanket, and a cup of tea. I turn thoughts over like a hound turns over leaves searching for rabbit scents. I open myself up the goddess and god and wait for their guidance. I seek the part of myself that is calmness and light in a stormy sea of chaos.

I am often overwhelmed, with too many to-do items waiting in the wings. I read in a simple living book that we’re better served choosing three items to accomplish each day rather than crafting a rambling to-do list, and I’ve tried to work from that. Three is manageable. Anymore and I feel like I’m failing. Three forces me to prioritize. Three allows me to make time for stillness and self-care and all of my other responsibilities, from walking the dog to doing dishes, and space for relationships—cuddle time with my husband, phone chats with my siblings, coffee dates with friends.

I am learning. I am imperfect. I am a work in progress.

This week was an example of that. Overwhelmed by all the things I’ve taken on, I managed to revise one chapter. Not as many as I’d like, but I feel like this book is deepening, opening up to a level it hadn’t been at before, and I am so proud of what I wrote this week. I finished my word-cloud and sent it off to a blogging expert who’s helping me hone this aspect of my writing. I started off strong with visiting others’ blogs, but fell off toward the end, so there’s room for improvement there.

In terms of tending the hearth fire, the new washer and dryer are in! Finally. It was quite an ordeal, but we have a new washer and dryer. We’re still in the midst of the living room redecorating, and creating a message center in our hallway to organize incoming mail, action items like bills and whatnot, and receipts, which are all problem areas for us organization-wise. We have some major projects are on the horizon, but I think we both want to focus on some smaller ones before we tackle anything large like this again.

And so, I head into next week looking for some time to recharge. It snowed today, believe it or not, but the weatherman assures us warmer days are on the horizon, and I trust in the promise of spring.

I have always craved stillness and depth and purpose and magic. I have tried to fill my life with those things. There are, of course, the mundane things—the bills to be paid, the errands to run.

But in the midst of these things, there is magic.

Washing the dishes, the slightly citrusy scent of the dish soap filling my nostrils, Celtic tunes playing in the background, I am reminded that in the midst of the everyday, magic glitters.

We just have to be paying attention.

What about you? How did your week progress? How do you seek out calm and stillness in the midst of everyday chaos?

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