Every Day a Holiday!

May 11th, 2015

CupcakesI was cutting up old magazines last night in preparation for another visual journaling workshop. Among my used magazines was an out-of-date copy of O that I don’t remember reading.  As I skimmed through the pages I found some interesting directives for putting more joy into life.  This one especially caught my eye:  Play with the idea of making your days special.  Every month for the rest of this year, either invent a holiday or find an unusual one to celebrate.  I like this idea.  Life is too boring sometimes. And why should we wait for government holidays or commercially dedicated days to enjoy a special celebration?

Searching the internet, I found a wonderful site: http://www.checkiday.com/search.php which provides a list of holidays for any date entered.  On the list for today, Monday May 11th is: Eat What You Want Day which is such a relief since I already over spent on my calorie limit by having lunch at Taco Bell.  Never mind! It’s a holiday—I was celebrating.

If you don’t need an excuse to eat something off limits, how about going to the Outer Limit and observe National Twilight Zone Day?  I’m not sure what to do for that one.  Dress up as an alien?  The first episode of The Twilight Zone portrayed a lone serviceman who arrives in a town which appears to be very recently deserted.  Hot coffee steams in cups on the counter in the town diner but no waitress of chef are on duty to take an order.  The man goes into the cinema where he can smell hot popcorn and hear music, but there is no movie or audience.  It turns out he is part of an experiment in sensory deprivation and research scientists are observing him through a one way mirrored window.  Hmmm. . . . To celebrate this holiday properly will I have to spend a day in a darkened room, floating in body temperature water?  I think I’ll take a pass on this holiday; it sounds like more fright than fun to me. I’ll leave that for Halloween.

Next on today’s list is more appealing:  May 11 is also Hostess Cupcake Day. The Hostess Baking Company almost went out of business a few years ago but thanks to consumer demand, they’re restocking grocery shelves with their tasty little snack cakes: Twinkies, Cupcakes, and Sno-balls to name a few. Now I have an excuse to eat one more of those rich chocolate mini-cakes with the creamy filling and icing squiggle on top.  My mother put Hostess Cupcakes in my lunch sack years and years ago.  I really liked those Hostess cupcakes – until they invented the Suzy-Q and I switched my allegiance to a folded chocolate cake sandwich.  How could I refuse a sweet treat named after me? Sadly, Hostess doesn’t make Suzy-Q’s anymore but this Suzy can still have a cupcake.

The final entry for today is National Root Canal Appreciation Day. Now as a holiday that one’s a stretch of the imagination for me! I have friends who have had root canals and they didn’t seem particularly happy or appreciative of any part of the experience.  However, if I continue to celebrate holidays by eating anything I want and stuffing myself with Hostess Cupcakes, I’ll probably be ready for a Root Canal very soon.

I think I’m getting hooked on this every day a holiday adventure.  I have to hurry and get ready for tomorrow.  It’s National Limerick Day.  . . .

Let’s see:   there was an old lady from Brewster . . . .

Journal Prompts:

Create your own holiday. Write a history of the holiday and directions for celebrating!

Create a limerick in honor of National Limerick Day.

Write about a favorite food you like to eat.

Revising the Vision:

March 4th, 2015

Aside from using your journal to create, commit and review your goals, you can also use writing process to revise resolutions that are no longer viable or important. Life changes daily and sometimes what we wanted in January is not what we want in June. With the support of your writing practice you may actually find yourself achieving more and more quickly! Whatever happens, the journal is always available and never judges. You can write about your concerns, test your feelings about giving up and letting go of a resolution. As you become more comfortable with writing practice you will naturally find new ways to dialogue with your fears as well as your desires. In fact, science has proven that writing about events that are troubling to you will actually boost your immune system and provide positive input on how to proceed. Whatever question you have for yourself can be answered in your journal. Nothing is too small or too big to fit into your notebook.

Prompts for revising resolutions and goals:

  •  I no longer want to . . .
  • I am willing to let go of . . .
  • What’s important to me now is . . .
  • I thought I wanted (name goal) but really I . . .
  • What will happen if I don’t do (name of goal)
  • Instead of doing (goal), I will . . .

Once you discover anew what you really want, you can begin again to set new goals and define the next best steps  to achieve them.  There are no mistakes in life, there is only learning….and the quickest way to unhappiness and dis-ease is to continue on a pathway that you know isn’t right for you.

Give yourself permission to create a new vision for the future.

Review, Evaluate, Recommit

February 25th, 2015

Every resolution has a potential for success, and every resolution is only that – a resolution.  Your goals are not cast in stone but rather are flexible and dynamic plans to help you stay focused.  Writing down resolutions and action steps makes you twice as likely to succeed but in order to know if your  plan is delivering what you want in the way of life and career satisfaction you must review your progress at frequent intervals. Measuring your performance is the only way you can really know if you are on the right track!  The more frequently you review your progress the more quickly you can adjust your plan as needed to increase your chance of success. Once you have written your goals, keep writing throughout the year to track your progress and ensure success.

Try this:  Write daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly progress reports to quantify and compare your performance at regular intervals:

  •    How Many did I achieve?   – How Many did I expect?
  •    How Much did I accomplish?   -  What did I expect to accomplish?
  •    How Much did I say I would do?    -  How much did I get done?
  •    Today (This week, this month)   I achieved . . .
  •    What’s left to be accomplished?

Beware the temptation to fault yourself for not achieving as much as you expected.  You may have expected too much in too short a time - or you may not fully have committed to the goal as you first described it.  Writing about your progress will help you determine what needs to be changed in order for you to succeed.

  •      what’s working for me is. . .
  •      what’s not working for me  is. . .
  •      My next best step(s) to take  . . .

Setting goals often stimulates resistance. A thousand reasons ‘why not’ compete with our focus and desire to achieve.  Using your journal will keep you focused on the goal, not the obstacles.

  • What’s standing in the way of my success?
  • One way to resolve my obstacle is . . .

Next post:  Revising the Vision

It’s Not Too Late to Set your New Year’s Resolutions.

February 11th, 2015

If you are like many people, you start the New Year with a list of ‘resolutions’ and the energy to make it all happen. Then about March you lose focus, find yourself distracted by life’s little emergencies, and forget about the ideal year you envisioned.

This year, with your journal by your side, you have a better chance for success. Research continues to show that you are more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. A journal helps you clarify what you want and motivates you to take action.  Then, as new opportunities try to pull you off course, your written goals provide a filter for distractions, reminding you of what matters most.

A journal is the perfect tool to help you take charge of your New Year’s resolutions and goals.  With it you can:

  • brainstorm new  directions
  • vision the future
  • record your goals and action plans
  • track your progress
  • celebrate your success and accomplishments
  • refine and adjust your vision for the best year ever.

Here’s how!

Visualize and Prioritize”

When it comes to setting goals, having a clear vision of what you want is essential.  Try a five-minute timed writing sprint using one of these prompts:

  • What is my vision for the coming year?
  • The year I want to accomplish. . .
  • Something I’ve always wanted to do is . . .

From the Heart:

Too often people set goals based on external expectations. We think we ‘should’ do something and try to convince ourselves it’s what we really want. If your heart’s not in it, your energy will wane and your resolution end up on the junk pile. Check your writing for words like ‘should’ or ‘could’ or ‘would’. If you truly desire to accomplish something you must claim it with your language, use words like ‘want’, and ‘will’. “I want to quit smoking” is much more effective than “I should quit smoking.” “I will quit smoking by March 1st” is even more effective. When you write your resolutions down you have an opportunity to review and revise your intention with purposeful language.

Try these prompts:

  • I want to (name your goal) because . . .
  • What is important for me about achieving this goal?

Listen for “who says so” in your answers. If it’s not your voice, then you are probably trying to please someone other than yourself.

Be Specific!

To be effective in achieving your goals and resolutions you must be specific. Check your vision against the following guideline: is it SMART (a Specific, Measurable Achievement that is Realistic and Timely)? Without specific details it’s possible to miss your mark. For example, the goal “I want to lose weight this year” is not specific. If you lose an ounce, is that enough to satisfy your goal? If you want to lose fifteen pounds, you will not feel satisfied in your achievement if you have only lost an ounce. SMART goals include details like how much, how long, and by when. Use your journal to brainstorm specific details for every resolution to aid you in recognizing when you have truly reached your goal.

Try these prompts:

  • The details of  my vision include. . .
  • My specific goals for the year are . . .
  • What is (are) my real goal(s)?
  • I will know I have achieved my goal when I . . .
  • I can measure my success by . . .

Don’t forget to set some intermediate milestones. How will you recognize one-quarter, half-way, almost there?

Now Act on it!

Having resolutions is awesome. Acting on your intention is even better. Again, use your journal to brainstorm activities and action steps that will help you achieve your goals.  Make plans to celebrate now – you’re sure to be a winner this year when you Write Your Way to Success!

Coming soon: 

Using your journal to  find support and track your progress.

 

Playing with Words: 20 Odd Questions

July 27th, 2014

My husband subscribes to the online version of the Wall Street Journal. I don’t like to read the newspaper on line. I want to curl up in bed with a cup of tea and the newspaper folded just so; precisely into halves-vertically or horizontally-the same way my father would fold his Wall Street Journal at the breakfast table when I was a child. In deference to my preference for real newsprint, my husband continues to pay for the paper edition despite the fact that he could save money by letting it go. It’s one of the little things my husband does to ensure my happiness. I am very grateful.

In the Saturday Style & Fashion edition (yes, the Wall Street Journal now has a weekend edition) some celebrity is usually interviewed about his or her preferences in clothing, reading material, food and other favorites.  The questions intrigue me; they are an odd collection of 20 questions. Some are familiar, others are less so but always they are interesting.  I think they would be useful in describing characters for a novel.

Imagine, for example, that you asked your character what kind of suit he preferred.  What will he answer?  If you ask a female the same question, what would she say?  What do they read? What’s their favorite hotel? What are their favorite sheets?  Your story may not take your characters out of town nor are your characters all destined to be financial analysts. But they do wear clothes; they do use household products, electronics, and perhaps they even go to the gym.

The nature of characters lies in their choices, in the smallest details of their lives and environment. You may use these details in your narrative to add definition and depth to the people in your novel or you may not; your character may come to the page fully formed. You should, however, know their backstory.

Here are just a few of the fun questions I have gleaned from the pages of several recent WSJ interviews.  Feel free to make up some of your own!

  • What kind of car do you drive?
  • Where do you live?
  • What’s the best road trip you’ve ever taken?
  • Best travel destination?
  • Favorite Hotel?
  • What is the one thing you use the most?
  • What are your favorite sheets?
  • If you cook, what’s your specialty dish?
  • Favorite song?
  • Favorite book?
  • Do you have a pet?  What kind?

Next time you are creating a character for a writing project, play the twenty question game to discover the quirks that will bring your character to life.

 

 

 

Amusing Questions from the Internet….

April 2nd, 2014

My husband closed down his office after thirteen years and moved all of his accumulated books and treasures back home.  While sifting through a neglected box of books I found a little booklet pondering some of life’s important mysteries that had been gleaned from the Internet – which is, of course, the source of all answers these days.

Here are a few taken from the Write File Quarterly, Woodville, Ontario, Canada:

Why do you need a driver’s license to buy liquor when you can’t drive and drink?

Why isn’t phonetic spelling spelled the way it sounds?

Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?  (my favorite!)

If you’re in a vehicle going the speed of light, what happens when you turn on the headlights?

Why is it when you transport something by car it’s called a shipment, bt when you transport something by a ship it’s called cargo?

Why is it that when you’re driving and looking for an address, you turn down the volume on the radio?  (I do! Do you?)

These funny questions got me thinking:  what am I curious about? What questions do I have?  As a writer I’ve been told:  write what you know but really I think the best writing comes from writing what you want to know.  Questions are the stimulus and inspiration for good story lines and plotting.

Pick up your pen now and write all the things you want to know.  What are you curious about?  What questions do you want answered?

Go for ten minutes – when you have a good list, choose something spicy from your list and begin another write.  You can answer your question by writing what you know – and then you can do a little research.  I hear the Internet is a great place to find answers!

 

Feck and Feckless

March 26th, 2014

What the Feck?!

In this morning’s newspaper editorial Jonah Goldberg described a particular presidential phrase as “utterly lacking in feck.”  I thought:  what the feck?  I’ve heard of feckless but had never come across the root word on its own.

I have a pretty extensive vocabulary thanks to my father who required that I regularly complete the Reader’s Digest “It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” challenge. For those not in the know the Reader’s Digest word power  was a monthly multiple choice quiz featuring ten difficult, often obscure, words.  My father, who was a Latin scholar, could complete it with 100% accuracy every time. As a grade-school student, I was not as lucky. For every wrong answer I had to memorize the word, its spelling, the meaning, and then be able to use it in a sentence by the end of the week.  Fortunately for me, my father described his method of isolating the Latin root of each word to make an educated guess from the possible answer choices.  My word power definitely increased.

When I saw the word ‘feck’, however,  I was stymied.  It reminded me of my father’s penchant for using the word ‘couth’ to describe people with manners. Usually it is customary to only identify uncouth people.  My father argued that if there was an uncouth, then there must be a couth.  Following his reasoning, I looked for ‘feck’ in my big dictionary. Turns out Dad was right. If you can have feckless, there must also be ‘feck’- a word that means value or worth. Someone or something feckless is, by definition, without value.

Goldberg could easily have written “a feckless presidential phrase” but he didn’t. He chose to go with something unusual to emphasize his opinion and, perhaps, jolt the reader into paying attention. It worked !

I wonder how many more common derogatory terms have a positive side. I’m going to be on the lookout for them. I might even try to use one in a sentence.

And in case you’re wondering, ruth (the opposite of ruthless) is also a word!

This week, have fun playing with words….

 

The Year in Review

January 2nd, 2014

What a whirlwind 2013 was for me!  I travelled many miles on business and for pleasure.  Some things worked for me – and some things did not.  I accomplished some goals while others slipped into obscurity.  Overall it was an exciting and robust year…and I wouldn’t feel as good about it as I do now if I wasn’t keeping a journal.

The journal is a phenomenal record of events – both personal and public.  My journal keeps track of my life within the context of the current affairs in my local environment and in the world.  If  in the moment I may feel less than successful I can review the incredible outpouring of support and validation I experienced as a keynote speaker for two international conferences.  Journal keeping gives me perspective.  My life is not contained in a single day but is a product of many days, many events, many experiences.

To close out the last year and help set goals for the new year, take some time to reflect on what happened last year.  If you have been keeping a journal this should be easy for you – you can skim your entries or look for key words/events that tell the story of the past year.

If you have not been keeping a journal, don’t worry. You can sit down now and create a time-line of past events.  Many newspapers and news magazines will have a countdown of the top ten events of the year.  This may help trigger your memory:  where were you? what were you doing? when did each of these major events occur?

Consider next what important milestones you passed: did you change jobs? change residence? Take a long-awaited special vacation? Did you have a major birthday or other event?

Don’t try to whitewash your review either.  If you had some major disappointments, acknowledge them.  Give yourself credit for living through the events. Try to capture the learning.  Whatever happened may have made you stronger or brought you to some realization about your self and the person you wish to become.

When you have constructed your timeline, take your journal and write for ten or fifteen minutes.  You can use the following prompts:

This year has been for me …

The theme of this year has been…

or What has been the them of this past year?

Follow your write by reading your entry and summarizing it in one sentence:

Now that I read what I’ve written I notice ….

Discovering your theme for last year will help you find direction for the year to come. When you are writing you will be able to find balance and perspective; you will see both sides. Learn to let go of that which no longer fits for you and take action for the future.

For your last write start with this prompt:

“Next year at this time I will …..”  Imagining your future brings it closer to reality.

Happy  New Year everyone.

 

The Write Way to Manage Holiday Stress

December 14th, 2013

As we move into this holiday season I am filled with trepidation.  I have not lost my childlike excitement for Christmas.  I like the tree, the sound of carols, the baking and decorating and shopping for gifts.  Yet after the holidays I feel flat and unsatisfied.

This year I turned my pre-season thoughts to expectations and used my journal to explore what I wanted out of Christmas which led me to astonishing insight into how I set myself up for disappointment.  While I have a vivid internal idea of how the days should proceed, I have not stopped to think what my family is expecting nor have I tried to communicate to them my own expectations…a sure recipe for disaster.

This year take time to explore your personal ideal holiday.  Clear your mind and set an intention that will deliver the holiday experience you want.

Here are some journal starters to manage your holiday stress:

1) Right now I’m thinking…. -  Take a moment to notice what’s on your mind.  This year I noticed how unorganized I was after all my recent travels. I felt I might not be able to live up to my family traditions!

2)  All I want for Christmas is …..  Writing down your expectations gives you a chance to step back and look at what is really meaningful for you – and what is realistic.

3) When Christmas comes to my house …. Now you can set the intention for what you will do this year to make your holiday experience the best ever.

Let go of tradition and create a new holiday that delivers Joy!

Seasons Greetings to one and all!

Writing Globally

November 5th, 2013

I have just completed a tour of four universities in Finland where I made presentations to students and writing specialists on journaling, memoir and therapeutic writing.  Every where I went it was clear to me that people are hungry for a method to express their thoughts and feelings.  People want to write.  What is more interesting is the responses to my usual questions of ‘why write’ and ‘why people don’t write’ are the same wherever I travel.  People fear they won’t do it right or that they will be exposed.

Yes keeping a journal does put your personal thoughts and feelings into tangible form.  Yes, there is always the possibility that someone will read it and judge you (or your writing).  As for worrying about your writing ability, a journal is for your eyes only.  You can misspell as many words as you like and leave the conventions of grammar at the door.  How you write doesn’t matter if you are writing for your self.

Privacy is also an issue that can be addressed.  You can write in code (ie, change names and events to protect yourself or others) or you can write about how you feel without naming the event that created the feelings.  Protecting your writing may be as simple as keeping your journal in a very safe and private place.  It may also involve letting people know that you are keeping a journal and asking them to respect your privacy. It is true that when you have no secrets you are less vulnerable but that is oversimplifying the case for some people.  If you do have secrets, you can always write and process the information then destroy it immediately – saving only your reflection on the learning gained from the event.

Whatever your excuses for not writing, know that you are not alone.  From Helsinki to Bangkok, Korea to Colorado, people are afraid to write but once they start they find many more reasons to continue. Writing helps clarify thoughts, improves your health, and inspires creativity.  Start writing today – you’ll be glad you did.

And if you’re still having trouble.  I’m sure I have an antidote for your fear.