Growing up, I attended church faithfully every Sunday. It was something we did as a family, (and the rule in our house). While I sat in abject boredom during the sermons, I loved it when the congregation sang the hymns or the choir performed. I’d belt out the words or ad lib during those old-time, gospel spirituals that had everyone standing on their feet and clapping to the beat. We were black and Baptist, and carrying on the traditions of our ancestors. The music seemed to uplift the soul, make a believer out of a non-believer. [Read more…] about You Got to Move
When I sit down at my desk in the morning, night is still fully in place. My companions are the muffled sounds of cars speeding down the Gardiner Expressway, the tick tock of the living room clock, and my partner’s snoring seeping through the walls. It is — living in a busy downtown Toronto neighbourhood — by all accounts … quiet. It’s the time of day I am most focused, when I can hear myself think.
I wrote this blog post last November. Then, the weather changed on a dime. Strong, 100km winds one day, then rain, and then the potential for snow. We feared winter’s ugly wrath, and that there was no way to sidestep it. All we could do was suck it up. And as Canadians, the plan executed flawlessly — was to spend the next few months complaining about how cold it was, how miserable it was outside, and how we couldn’t wait for spring.
Now, it’s April. The snow is (mostly) gone. It’s warmer (I’m running in shorts). The days are longer. And we’re still complaining about the weather!
And like we can’t sidestep winter or the early April snowfalls, sometimes you can’t sidestep doubt.
Don’t Open that Door
I write frequently about doubt. Why? Because it’s a constant companion on my creative journey, especially when I’m nearing the end of a project, taking on something that’s outside of my comfort zone, or anticipating my editor’s critique of my manuscript. The biggest challenge sometimes is to not open the door to doubt.
There are times when it’s too tempting to let doubt in, and if we do it can throw us off course. Instead, maybe we need a little pep talk, and here’s what we could tell ourselves…
Dare to dream. Dare to imagine that we live in a world where we can — without the judgment of others, without asking for outside approval — be ourselves. It’s a world where we can follow our heart’s true desire. It’s a world where we can freely do what it is that we want to do and what we feel called to do. It is a world of hope and possibility.
What I Say to Myself
I am a writer. I say that with conviction. It is, today, an affirmation of who I am. I am a writer. Not because of my novels or other published works. I am a writer because there is, deep within me, a will far greater than my own that compels me to write. It is a calling. I have chosen to heed the call.
My day is not complete if I have not put in time at the page. It reminds me of the days when I went without having a coffee. I was cranky. (I don’t drink coffee now, so if I’m cranky it’s for an entirely other reason). When I do not write, or when I don’t write enough, I’m irksome and irritable. In a way, I lose my humanity. That’s why each day I show up at the page. If I don’t, I risk losing myself. Writing grounds me in the day, helps me to be present in the now. Writing, I hang on to myself.
Weather the Storm
Stay focused on the work before you. Perhaps doubt is trying to tell you that the road ahead is somewhat uncertain. Even so, you can’t let doubt have dominion here. All you can do is show up, begin where you are, and the rest will follow.
What challenges do you face daily in your creative pursuits? Are you weathering the storm? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
We live in crazy times. Not necessarily crazy, but so much different from when I was a child. Technology has changed how we live and work. Politics are more divisive, and ugly, than I can remember. It’s a me-first world, and trying to keep up can leave you exhausted. And through it all, we’re trying to follow our own path, do what we love … be a beacon of hope in a world seemingly turning in on itself. To do that, to forge ahead, it’s important to bring balance to our daily lives.
Where We Were
When I think of my childhood, I think of simpler times. I was born in 1973. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister. Richard Nixon was President of the United States. Construction of the CN Tower began on February 6 of that same year. I grew up with the Atari game consoles, Commodore 64 and Vic-20. As a child, playing for me meant swimming in our pool, playing a game of Hide and Seek, Tag or Red Rover, building forts in the woods or going for long bike rides. During the summer, my parents took us camping, or on day trips to see relatives living in other parts of the province. In July, we always picked strawberries followed by a picnic lunch. In the fall, we picked apples.
Where We Are Now
Life is crazy. We know we’re on this planet for a limited time, and many of us have big dreams. To become the Surgeon-in-Chief at Mount Sinai. A bestselling author. A successful entrepreneur. And we’re trying to achieve our goals while balancing work, family and other life issues. Before we realize it, we’re caught up in the hustle and bustle of life — trying just to keep up, and unable to resist the temptation to rush, rush, rush.
Add to that technology. Not just how it’s made our lives easier — online shopping and banking, high speed internet, self-parking cars — but also how it’s placed a, let’s use the word ‘burden,’ on us. Social media. We’re trying to study for the MCAT, get the kids out to hockey practice, or finish the edits to the final chapter of the novel it took two years to write. We’re already struggling to juggle work and home, yet it’s now expected to maintain accounts on several social media platforms if we wish to be successful. As if we’re not busy enough!
The question I keep asking myself is this: how do we find balance?
The Struggle Within
As a writer with a day job, balance doesn’t come easily. On my days off, I’m working hard on writing projects, building my platform and engaging with my audience. And I’m also investing time in other interests, like running, reading and cooking. It becomes almost impossible not to rush, rush, rush. I’m trying to make every minute off the day count. Is it a surprise that I often feel exhausted and overwhelmed? Not really.
I often equate (erroneously) increased productivity with success without really taking the time to see if I’m focused on what matters most. Yet it’s hard for my mind to compute that there are trade-offs, and time dedicated to one project/activity cannot be used for another. If I’m going to three hours on social media (I’m not on a social media diet), I have to realize — and accept — that maybe it’s going to take longer to write the first draft of a novel or complete the rewrite of a manuscript. It’s been that lack of understanding, ignorance even, about the importance and necessity of trade-offs that’s made me feel overwhelmed, like I’m stalled. Oliver Burkeman says it nicely: “[…] we make enormous efforts to ignore the reality of trade-offs — and, as a consequence, deny ourselves the best chance of a maximally fulfilling creative career.”1
How Do We Find Balance?
We find balance by taking an inventory of our life. How are we spending our time? Are we focused on what’s important to us? And are we making time for the things, and people, we love? Finding balance isn’t going to happen overnight. It may take several attempts to get it right. In six months’ time, we might have to again reassess if we’re focused on the right things and make more changes. And remember … balance will mean different things to different people.
Over the years, this is what I’ve learned: when we find the balance that we need, there’s a natural ebb and flow to life. Everything comes together, and joy blossoms in our hearts. It gives us the strength and determination, if only for today, to keep on keeping on.
Have you found balance in your life? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
In November 2015, I pulled the plug on social media — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogger. Then I went beyond that. I limited my use of e-mail, kept the TV off during the day (until my partner came home from work and turned it on), sent few text messages and, when I wasn’t working at my day job, kept my mobile on ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode.
I went dark, off the grid. This was, in part, inspired by a story I’d read two years earlier about a family that decided to live like it was 1986 again. No computers, internet, or cell phones. And they dressed the part, too, with mullets and cut-off jeans. They brought 1986 to the 21st century to embrace the simplicity of that era. That said a lot, to me anyway, about how we’ve evolved — and the role technology has played in that evolution. Would I want to return to 1986 (I was thirteen then)? Probably not.
While I didn’t go to that extreme, I required a much-needed timeout from social media because I felt overwhelmed. At that time, I was working on the rewrite of a novel and trying to stay current on industry trends. Suddenly, I felt like everything was coming at me fast and furious. On Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or my inbox, the bombardment was unrelenting: ‘advice’ on holiday book marketing, or writing and selling your novel, or how authors can use Facebook Lead Generation Ads, or how to grow your followers, et. al. Overwhelmed, I couldn’t hear myself think, didn’t know how to proceed.
Being overwhelmed had a spiraling effect. I don’t know how to move myself forward, couldn’t concentrate, and then procrastination set in. And boy, oh, boy, did I embrace procrastination! Frustrated (and it was all my own doing) because I wasn’t making progress, wasn’t pushing the boundaries, wasn’t bringing my writing projects to completion. Everything stalled, and I was left flailing.
So, I went dark, off the grid. For two weeks.
An Uneasy Relationship
Now it’s 2019, and I haven’t gone off the grid again. As a self-published author, I recognize and appreciate that social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. — can be powerful tools in the promotion of my author brand. It’s still not something that comes easily or naturally to me, but I’m grateful for the exchanges on Twitter and Facebook that connect me with other writers/artists facing similar challenges. Holed up in my own world, I’ve become part of a community that supports and encourages each other. And it’s great to connect with readers, too.
Social media has a way of sucking you into the vortex. A decision to check in ‘quickly’ on Twitter can blow apart your day. That’s why social media is both my friend and my enemy. I took the timeout because social media felt more like my enemy.
My enemy. Because, real or imagined, some days social media has dominion over me. Am I engaging enough? How many likes did my post get? Has anyone responded on Facebook? I get all worked up about if I’m doing it right, if I’m doing what I should be doing to be successful (if I’m listening to all the expert advice out there).
The social media world is constantly evolving. Late in 2018, as I started to catch up to some changes that had occurred in recent months — and realized I was far behind in the game — I panicked. I felt like I immediately had to get up to speed. Overwhelmed, I couldn’t think, couldn’t focus and, worst of all, couldn’t write. I took a day and a half to step back, breathe and then come up with a plan to move forward.
You Need a Plan
When I went dark three years ago and pulled away (briefly) from social media, I was happy with the results. I wrote. More focused, my productivity skyrocketed. That meant I ran more, and got out of the condo to explore my neighbourhood, discovering new restaurants and shops. I read more, challenged myself in the kitchen and organized my spice cupboard (the latter is back in a state of disarray). I felt relaxed and, at the end of each day, a sense of accomplishment. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time.
The exercise made me realize, as an indie author — or any artist these days — you can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to social media. But you still don’t have to let it rule the day. Yes, writers like Stephen King, Paulo Coelho and Jodi Picoult use social media (and brilliantly at that), but if you asked them I bet they’d tell you they had a plan for social media management. You need a plan, too, but one that you’re comfortable with and let’s you pursue your creativity your way. It’s a little like writing or painting or making music … you have to find your voice.
The Wake-Up Call
In December 2018, I realized I needed to make changes to my daily schedule if I really wanted to achieve my goals. At the end of the day, I didn’t feel fulfilled … like I had squandered the time gifted to me to live out my purpose. I wasn’t tending faithfully to my dreams. That need for change led me to read books by Brendon Burchard, Brené Brown, Michael Hyatt and Keith Ellis — so I could be inspired to do what was necessary to live my best life ever.
I was excited, energized, pumped.
But nothing changed. Why? I couldn’t break the cycle of self-sabotage. After all these years, I was still afraid of what people would think of me for daring to be a writer. That they’d ridicule me (which people did and still do) when I talk about my dream of writing full-time. “Stick to what’s safe,” they told me. Or, “How many books have you sold?” they’d ask mockingly. “I could never do that.” And I took their fear and owned it.
In January, working the flight to London, something felt off. Usually excited to go to London, I felt numb. Listening to my colleagues talk, a calmness invaded my heart. I went quiet. I realized this wasn’t my dream. Sure, it’s great to travel the world. Having 13-14 days off each month? Freakin’ fantastic. Great benefits? Absolutely. Starting my day in the middle of the night, stuck with rude passengers and colleagues at 35,000 feet for hours, and beyond exhausted for 24-36 hours after returning home? Not my dream.
It was time to start marching to the beat of my own ambition.
The 30-Minute-a-Day Social Media Diet
I didn’t quit my job. I focused on expressing my truest voice instead of constantly giving myself over to distractions and unfulfilling activities. On the top of my hitlist? Social media.
I have an active presence on three social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. That is the order I give them priority. And now, each network gets only 10 minutes a day of my time. How do I do that? I use Screen Time, Freedom and StayFocusd.
Screen Time: Available on iOS, it lets me set a daily allotment of time for each app. When the allotted time runs out, access to the app is blocked. Be aware, though, that it’s easy to ignore the limit set, so it also requires self-discipline.
Freedom: This app allows me to block websites as well as apps on my iPhone for the time period set (make sure you create a block list).
StayFocusd: A Google Chrome extension, it allows users to limit time spent on certain websites and block access to the internet (Nuclear Option).
Three apps, using them 10 minutes a day, produces the 30-minute-a-day social media diet.
That’s how, finally, I’m mastering my day, taking control of the agenda and direction of my life.
Do you have a plan for social media management? How is it working for you? Click Reply or leave a comment in the section below. I’d love to hear from you.
5 Rules to Live By to Raise Your Creative Game
Distractions. They’re everywhere. TV and the soul-sucking, mind-numbing reality shows that we’ve become obsessed with. Social media. We’re constantly reaching for our phones, hoping we’re not missing out on what’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et. al. — and the 24/7 high-stakes drama it has become. The Trump Presidency. The fracas around Brexit. It’s no wonder that we are, literally, driven to distraction.
More than ever, we’re living in a time when it’s easy — with all the distractions at our disposal — to feel like there’s not enough time to get everything done. Worst of all, the first thing to get shelved are our dreams. Yes, we talk about writing a book, starting our own business, recording an album, but we’re too caught up doing things that don’t really matter … and the dream fades away.
Life is busy. It’s a race to get the kids off to school in the morning. The deadline for that project at work looms, and you feel pressured — because everyone else is doing it — to stay late or go in on the weekend. Your mother-in-law (God love her) just showed up unexpectedly … and is staying the week! Somewhere in all the chaos, you still need to find time to do laundry, shop for groceries, pay the bills. It’s never-ending.
Yet, we’re happiest in life when we’re doing what we’re most passionate about. I know. Miserable for years, trapped in a soporific nine-to-five job, I wasn’t pursuing my passion: writing. The struggle — ever-present — was to find some type of balance between writing and work, family, home and everything else clamouring for my attention.
If I wanted to write and let my creativity shine, I had to eliminate the distractions holding me back. No more excuses. No more blaming others for the lack of time. No more bullsh*t.
I came to rely on the one thing I’d spent a good chunk of my life breaking: rules.
In Write the Way: 5 Rules to Live By to Raise Your Creative Game, I share my insights and tips on how I’ve managed to make my writing a priority and take my creative game to the next level. The rules … they’re not perfect or absolute, but act as a guide that allows me to make the best of each day.
Grab your free copy here.
My hope is that these ‘rules’ will help you focus on what you’re most passionate about and bring your creative dreams to life.
Do you have any rules that help you stay focused? Are you ready to raise your creative game? Click Reply to leave a comment in the section below to let me know how you’re making out. I’d love to hear from you.