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Finding Inspiration and a Winner!

BellaGraceRed

Last week, I shared some of the ways I seek inspiration and ran a contest for a free copy of the latest issue of Bella Grace magazine, in exchange for a comment where readers shared how they seek inspiration. I got a couple of wonderfully thoughtful comments that I thought I’d share again here.

“I find great peace and serenity in one of my favourite parks in my home town. It is a pretty place where there is a little duck pond, a waterfall,stream and lots of beautiful trees. When I arrive I can feel myself let out a sigh of contentment. I am in my beloved nature at last.

This is the beginning of my little ritual that means so much to me. I arrive in my car with my coffee and my bag with my goodies at hand,these include knitting needles with socks waiting to bring pleasure to my waiting fingers as well as a novel or two maybe something inspirational and a notepad and pen in case I want to write a list,an idea or words for a poem. I am in my element for an hour or more. I treasure these moments.”

~ Sandra

“I find inspiration everywhere. Now, due to the type of day I could be having, I may not always be as receptive to inspiration as I would like, but, it is always there. It might be a painting, a photograph, a book, a song, a score – even a piece I’ve heard many times before, might just touch off or unlock something in me at that moment. Like you said in the blog, Victoria, loosening up on the structure and making time for yourself, will make one available to receive inspiration – and that is magical.”

~ David

I’ve added to my list of ways I seek inspiration. Now that the weather is finally warmer and the days are getting longer, I like going a walk or run after work. I’m lucky to live close to the waterfront and a park, so I have great views to enjoy.

I’m also feeding my inspiration by turning off the TV more often and reading books and magazines. I’ve been giving my library card a real workout lately.

And the winner is…. Sandra! I’ll be contacting you to send you your copy of Bella Grace. I’m sure you’ll find lots more inspiration in the pages.

Feature

Seeking Inspiration and a Giveaway

BellaGrace

Just over a month ago I started a full-time job, after pursuing freelance writing and web design for a couple of years. There is a certain ease to having a job—I show up, do what is asked of me and every two weeks I get a pay cheque.

The first couple of weeks was especially hard. I’d work all day and then walk home. I was so tired that all I could think about doing was having dinner and then watch a bit of TV before going to bed.

Now that I’ve adjusted to my new schedule, I’m not nearly as tired, but I’m still adjusting to having less time to pursue my writing, read books, go for walks and generally invite inspiration into my life.

I don’t have the time to just led inspiration arrive when it wants to and now I have to deliberately make time to seek inspiration and pursue my creativity.

Here are a few ways I’m seeking out inspiration in the small moments throughout the day.

I’m not a really a morning person, but I try to give myself enough time each morning to write in my journal before I head out to work. Taking a little time for myself first thing in the morning has been hugely rewarding.

I walk to work so use that time to listen to music or podcasts on my iPhone. I also try to give myself enough time so I can stop and snap a photo if I feel moved to do so.

I eat my lunch at my desk so I can use my lunch hour to leave the office and go for a walk, browse a bookstore or even go to a nearby library to do a little writing.

I’m fortunate to work in an office that discouraged overtime, so I’m free to leave the office by 5 p.m. every day. This means I always have my evenings free to pursue my writing. Sometimes, I find myself watching TV, but I’ve been watching programs I would have considered before. For example, I just finished watching the first season of The Magicians, based loosely on the novels by Lev Grossman.

I also try to not structure my evenings too much. That way, if I want to crawl into bed early with a book or a magazine I don’t give myself a hard time about it.

Contest!

One of my favourite magazines is Bella Grace and I’ve been lucky enough to have my writing and photography published in past issues. Right now, I’m reading and savouring the latest issue while curled up in bed and sipping a cup of tea.

I’m taking part in the Bella Grace Blog Hop and I have a copy of Issue #7 to give away! To enter, simply leave a comment below and answer this question:

How do you seek inspiration?

Contest extended! Leave a comment by April 29. I’ll draw the winner on April 30. I’ll mail a copy of Bella Grace anywhere in the world!

Updated: Contest is now closed. Thanks for your comments!

* Don’t forget to check out the Grace Notes blog for more inspiration!

Inspiration

The Rose Opened Its Heart

Pink Roses

How
did the rose
ever open its heart
and give to this world all of its beauty?
otherwise we all remain
frightened.

Hafiz

Embrace the light and let yourself blossom.

* From Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems edited by Ravi Nathan and Kate Vogt

Creative Business

Thoughts on Work-Life Balance

Work Life Balance

If you want money more than anything,
you’ll be bought and sold.
If you have a greed for food,
you’ll be a loaf of bread.
This is a subtle truth:
whatever you love, you are.

Rumi

April is National Poetry Month in both Canada and the United States, so I’ve decided to share some of my favourite poems here on my blog.

Today’s poem comes from a small book I picked up a couple of days ago – Mala of the Heart: 108 Sacred Poems edited by Ravi Nathan and Kate Vogt.

I have to admit that the subject of the poem is something I’m currently contending with. A month ago I started a new full-time job, and while I like my job, I haven’t had as much time to write or blog.

This has got me thinking about work-life balance. Years ago, at one of my previous jobs, I actually led a committee that was charged with the putting together a series of recommendations to improve work-life balance for the organization’s employees. (This was on top of all my other duties—oh, the irony!) I don’t really remember what the exact recommendations were, but it doesn’t matter because the whole exercise was mostly ineffective. The culture of the organization needed to change first.

It was the kind of organization were everyone routinely worked overtime—some paid, mostly not paid. This was because there were too few staff for the amount of work that needed to be done. It was also because there were lots of time-consuming and pointless processes that everyone had to follow—but no one had time to actually challenge, let alone change. Being a non-profit organization, collaboration and consensus building were important, even if the people involved didn’t have anything meaningful to contribute. For example, we had staff on a website advisory committee that never used the website. (The fact that we had a website advisory committee at all was a waste of time. The organization wouldn’t trust that communications staff actually had the skill to manage a website.)

It was a culture where people appeared to be proud of how busy they were. Whenever I asked someone ‘How are you?’ — the response was always ‘I’m so busy!’ BlackBerries and 24/7 access to email made everything worse.

The CEO believed it was ultimately the employee’s responsibility to maintain work-life balance. It is true that it is up to me to manage my time outside of work in a way that is meaningful to me. It is also up to me to be efficient and get my work done during work hours. But it is up to management to set the standards and model the behaviour. It is ridiculous for a leader to say “work-life balance is important” and then send a flurry of emails to employees on Sunday morning.

I’m happy to say that where I work now is great. People work hard during the day, but by 5 p.m. the place empties out. By 5:30 p.m. the place is a ghost town—I guess, because I’m out the door by shortly after 5 p.m. every day.

Working full-time means I now have just my evenings and weekends to work on my writing and this blog. During the first couple of weeks, I was just too worn out when I got home in the evenings. I’m adjusting to my new schedule and now I’m starting to put some processes in place. I’m cooking meals on the weekends so I can spend my evenings writing and working on this blog.

I’ll be sharing more in the coming days.

Inspiration

The Black and White Thinking Trap

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I realize that, until recently I was often trapped in what I call black and white thinking. This type of thinking is about viewing choices in life as two extremes—either I do “this” or I do “that” when in reality there are shades of grey.

For me, this meant I was stuck thinking either I could take a full-time job, or I could focus on my writing. Starting today, I’m working a full-time job and I’ll be writing on the side.

Instead of choosing one over the other, I will be doing both. This of course brings new challenges. Instead of juggling freelance projects and stressing about money, I will have less time to write. But I will be guarding my time outside of work, which will be dedicated to writing, reading and other activities that will feed by writing, such as readings and book launches.

To make sure I have time to write, I recently let go of a volunteer obligation. While a worthy cause, it required a great deal of my time and I was feeling burnt out. I wasn’t giving my best and it was time to go.

How has black and white thinking affected your life? Are there shades of grey you can explore?

 

Writing Tips

The Perils of Freelancing

V Mug

Just over four years ago, I decided to go freelance. I had quit my job a few months before in order to have time to write a book and it was time to start making some money. I was quite casual in my decision and thought transitioning to freelance would be easy. I had freelanced in between full-time jobs in the past and had easily landed projects when I wanted them.

My freelance writing and web design career was uneven at best. I took on some interesting projects with clients who were delighted in my work. I also had plenty of lean months. As I blogged last week, I have decided to return to full-time employment. I’ve accepted a contract until the end of the year, so in the fall I can decide what my next step will be.

I’m sharing what I learned about freelancing in case you are also freelancing or considering it.

It Requires Commitment

To be successful in freelancing, you need to be committed. You need to really believe in the services you are delivering. I found myself doing freelance copywriting and web design. While I enjoyed the projects I did, it wasn’t what I most wanted to do. I’m a writer and journalist at heart, not an advertiser, so while I had the skills to do the work, I lacked the passion.

Working From Home is Still Work

People tend to think it is cool to work from home because they think you can work when you want, sleep in and wear yoga pants while you work. This is mostly true, but if you start your work day late, you may end up working into the evening in order to meet deadlines. Plus, some of my clients expected me to be available during business hours and you don’t make a good impression when you answer a call with a raspy, I-just-got-out-of-bed-and-haven’t-had-any-coffee-yet voice. I’ve also had people think that I can make time during the day to visit or take non-work related meetings. No. I’m home but I am working.

Freelancing Doesn’t Mean Free

When I first started freelancing, I offered free consultations with potential clients with the hope that they’d be wowed and would want to hire me. More than once I had a potential client—usually a non-profit organization—tell me “thanks for the advice and we’re going to get a volunteer to do the work.” Or, they would slyly ask me to do the work for free or for a cut-rate, telling me that it would be great for my portfolio. I have more than 15 years’ experience in writing, editing and communications, including managing major communications initiatives, so I don’t need to take on projects to build up my portfolio.

Set Your Price and Stick to It

To keep the “free” out of freelancing, get professional and put some processes in place. Decide up front how much you want to charge for your services and have a rate card or costing proposal ready to go when a potential client asks for it.

I also discovered that when a clients asks for a price, be decisive and answer the question with a figure. Don’t waffle around and ask about the client’s budget. Be clear on what you are worth and stick to it. If you are firm, your clients will respect you. If a potential client doesn’t like the price, they will walk away. That is actually a good thing because a client that first considers the cost over the quality of your work will be a pain in the ass to work with anyway.

Also, having a professional invoice template will go a long way in ensuring you get paid.

Be Comfortable with Uncertainty

Freelancing means constantly hustling for new clients and reminding past clients that you still exist. It means you don’t know precisely when your next client or payment will arrive. There are lots of ways to get fully booked, but there is always a level of uncertainty. Being a freelancer also means being at the beck and call of your clients. More often than not, a client’s lack of planning becomes your crisis. Of course, you can push back but if you need the work you hold your nose and do it.

Freedom Comes With a Cost

Freelancing does give you some freedom, but it comes with a cost. Whether you bill for your time or by project, when you aren’t working you aren’t working you aren’t getting paid. This means you don’t get paid for statutory holidays or get vacation pay. And in Canada, the self-employed don’t qualify for employment insurance and must cover 100 per cent of the required contribution to the Canada Pension Plan (when you are employed, you pay 50 per cent and your employer covers the other 50 per cent). As a freelancer, you also have to take care of income tax, business tax (if you incorporate) and collect GST/HST.

I don’t mean to be discouraging about freelancing, I just want to share some of the realities. A big part of being a successful freelancer is having the resilience and thick skin to handle the challenges. It takes a certain type of personality and there is nothing wrong with recognizing that it isn’t right for you, or isn’t right for you in this moment of time.

Dream Key

My Future

All of this means that things are shifting here on the blog. In addition to my full-time job, I’m embarking on a side hustle to build a business providing online programs related to journal writing. I believe strongly in the power of story to transform our lives whether it is writing privately in our journals or sharing our writing publicly on a blog, in personal essays and memoir, or in fiction.

I will continue to write. In fact, I’m working on a couple of personal essays that I’ll be submitting to a magazine and an anthology, as well as working on what I really hope is the last draft of my memoir. I may not have as much time to write, but I will continue to pursue my writing dreams.

Feature

Why We Write About Ourselves

WritingPage

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know that I’ve been working on a memoir about the time I spent living aboard a sailboat with my family as a teenager.

My memoir has evolved over several drafts from being a story about a family sailing trip, to my own coming of age story that occurred while I lived on a sailboat. This is an important distinction as the first story is a collective story and the second is a much more personal story. The first story might have made my family nervous. The second story makes me nervous.

I just finished reading the compilation Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (And Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran.

Here are a few of my favourite passages.

A. M. Holmes on writing her memoir about finding out she was adopted.

“Writing my memoir was unpleasant, like being a doctor examining myself: Does it hurt here? Which part hurts the most? Oops! I made you bleed again.

“There were many points at which I thought, I don’t really want to be doing this. I want to stop.

“What propelled me to keep going was that I felt I could bring to the memoir my experience and training as a writer—finding language for primitive emotional experiences. One of the things that worked about the book was that it gave voice to people who hadn’t found language for their adoption experience.”

Sue Monk Kidd

“Writing memoir not only has the ability to reveal me to myself, it also has the power to change me. I suspect writing memoir is partially about the need to bring about wholeness in myself.”

Anne Lamott

“Writing a memoir is a lot more welcoming project. It’s like going to the beach or the library. When I think about writing a memoir, I sometimes actually feel excited. First I think, I’d love to read that book. Second, I know it’s doable.”

Dani Shapiro

“The idea of truth in memoir is absurd. Memory is utterly mutable, changeable, and constantly in motion. You can’t fact check memory.”

Cheryl Strayed on using her life in her writing

“The only way I know how to do that is to plumb the depths of my own heart, mind, body, and spirit. So I had to make myself ready for a life in which I share the most private parts of myself with the public. I didn’t learn how to do that all at once. It’s a muscle you work and build over time.”

I highly recommend this candid book about the benefits and perils of writing a memoir from writers who have written, published and lived to tell the tale.

Journal Writing

Writer With A Day Job

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More than four years ago, I left my job in order to spend more time pursuing my writing. I figured I would do freelance copywriting to pay the bills. It wasn’t easy and I came to realize I missed being part of a team. I also didn’t enjoy hustling for work. It wasn’t what I truly wanted to do, so it wasn’t easy.

In The Fire Starter Sessions, Danielle LaPorte writes about letting it be easy.

“Choosing easy is smart, efficient, elegant; a fantastic form of self-compassion; giving yourself a break and getting out of your own way. Choosing easy is letting inspiration be your compass. Choosing easy is allowing for the things that you’ve been asking for to enter your life.”

I’ve spent most of my adult life struggling to do everything. Struggling to get into university. Struggling to pay for university. Struggling to build a career. Struggling to pursue my writing.

What if I tried a different approach? What if I tried what is actually easy so I can have the physical and mental space to actually pursue my passions?

It is easier to take a contract job than continue to freelance.

It is easier to settle on a simple design for this website than trying to create some elaborate design that the online pundits tell me I need so I can “position” myself as a “brand,” be clear on my “target” audience in order to have a “business.”

It is so much easier to pursue my passion for writing when I don’t have to worry about paying the rent or hustling for more paying work.

It is so much easier to write blog posts and plan upcoming e-courses when I have a design that is simply me, and hopefully a place where you dear reader want to hang out and check out what I have to offer.

I resisted hanging up my freelance hat for a long time because I thought I would be giving up on my bigger writing goals. It also means I’m not living the dream—“quit your job, build an online business and run all the way to the bank with loads of money.”

Guess what? That dream is a lot harder to make happen than everyone lets on.

I haven’t given up my dream to make it as a writer—but I’ll do it while I work a meaningful job with a salary that will allow me to eat something other than the student diet of ramen noodles and Kraft Dinner (mac n’ cheese to you Americans). The student diet is only appealing when you are actually a student and your young body can handle the abuse.

By taking a full-time job, I will actually have more time to pursue the writing I most want to do—writing memoir, personal essays and fiction—the forms of writing that don’t pay as much as freelance copywriting but feed my soul instead.

Nothing is going to change here. I plan to share three blog posts a week—Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m also planning to share a share more videos. I’m still planning to launch a couple of e-courses this year.

I’m keeping my dream alive, but I’m just doing it differently

Let it be easy. It is so much better than making it hard.

Writing Tips

The Foolscap Method of Outlining a Novel

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In a bout of inspired procrastination, I discovered a couple of videos that Steven Pressfield made where he shared how he outlines his novels.

You should watch the videos to get all the details, but here is the method put simply.

Write the outline of your novel on a single sheet of 8.5 X 11 paper.

That’s it.

No complicated 50 page treatments. No stacks of index cards.

Just a simple outline on a single sheet of paper.

On that sheet of paper you work out the beginning, the middle and the end. Act One. Act Two. Act Three.

Still on that same sheet of paper, you figure out the narration. How are you going to tell the story? Who will the narrator be? Will the story be told in present tense or past tense? Will you use a continuous story arc or will you use flashbacks?

Then, you figure out the theme. What is the story really about?

Finally, still on the same sheet of paper, you go into a bit more detail about the inciting incident and the climax. The inciting incident will inform the climax, obviously.

Yes, this method presents the classic three-act structure for stories that is commonly used in movies. It might seem a bit formulaic but the structure goes all the way back to Homer’s Iliad. Stories continue to be told this way for one reason—it works.

Writing a novel without creating an outline would be like building a bridge without a blueprint–it would fall down before it was half built.

This way of outlining a novel makes me think of a similar method that is used to solve business problems. A couple of years ago as part of my work in communications, I got to take a workshop with the then Director of Knowledge Management at Toyota Canada. He described the Kaizen way of solving problems on the assembly line. Managers had to describe both the problem and the solution on a single sheet of 11 X 17 paper—the problem on one half of the page and the solution on the other side of the page. If they needed more paper to describe the problem or the solution, then they hadn’t got to the core problem. This meant they were solving the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself.

So, whether you are trying to plot a novel, or solve a business problem, boil it down to a single page and then get busy!

Feature

5 Reasons to Keep a Journal

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Yesterday, I shared a video with a sneak peek into some of the diaries and journals I’ve kept since I was 12 years old. I have a box of more than 30 filled journals stashed away in my closet. I’ve kept all of my journals, even though I only look at them once in a while.

Here are some reasons why I think you should keep a journal.

It is a safe place to express yourself – The pages of your journal are a safe and easy place to express your feelings, dreams and hopes. I’ve safely poured out my feelings on the page without fear of criticism and judgement.

You can uncover and solve your problems – The journal serves as a great place to uncover and sort any problems you might be having with your relationships, career or life. More than a few times in my life, I’ve created plans for dreams that once seemed impossible.

It’s a practice – Like meditation, daily journal writing can break a sense of calmness and well-being. I start feeling restless and out of sorts when I haven’t written in my journal for a couple of days.

You can reconnect with your creativity – I’ve used my journal as a place to start blog posts, personal essays and even a memoir. The ideas emerge from my daily musings.

It’s a memory depository – As I mentioned above, I’ve kept all of my journals. That is almost 30 years’s worth of memories. I’m not particularly nostalgic, but I think someday I will enjoy reading back through my journals to remind myself of the person I used to be.