Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Sit-and-Do-Nothing Rule

This post is inspired by a comment left on my last blog post about how to truly savor downtime and not feel guilty about it:

"Thanks for this! I found it from Tara Gentile's tweet, and I like it. My question is, how do you feel about your downtime? I've had an issue lately where everytime I have a little downtime, I end up feeling guilty for not doing something productive during that time--and yet, I'm still always yearning for that time to myself! It's such a destructive process. It would help if I had accomplished all the to do's before I have my downtime by scheduling all tasks like you suggested."

It is so. very. hard.

And, at times, I still suffer from that guilty vibe as well.

But, mostly, I have been able to really sit-and-do-nothing for a few minutes a day -- which hoenstly, in my world, is usually writing a list, doodling, writing, reading an inspiring book or meditating.


I see you twiddling your thumbs right now. I see the sweat from anxiety forming on your upper lip. I see your leg starting to twitch.

I learned the sit-and-do-nothing technique with little kids. The well-intended advice is always "nap when they nap" ... but I always felt there was too much to do, or at worst, I couldn't actually sleep.

So I implemented -- on the rare occassion -- the sit-and-do-nothing task. Close your eyes. Think about nothing but the sounds in the room. Breathe. Let your mind wander. Wander some more. Wonder.

This is a tool I use more frequently now when I am overwhelmed with too much to do or too many things I want to do.

Let's say I have a half hour and I have an hour's worth of work to do -- in other words, a typical half hour of my life. In fact, I often feel like a squirrel in the middle of the road -- you know when they can't decide what side of the road to run to -- the one they were aiming for or the one they just left? So, I instituted the sit-and do-nothing rule. Sit and do nothing not even watch TV, not even surf the Internets, not even talk to a person. Sit and do nothing and, like magic fairy dust falling on your shoulders, the answer: it always comes.

Usually, the answer is to make dinner and never even get to the rest of the list ... but I digress.

Sit and do nothing. That's it. It really is that simple.

Man, the best ideas come to me in those moments.

And I'm a much more relaxed crazy person after a sit-and-do-nothing. Still crazy. Still nutso. Still trying to do more than I can do in a single bound. But a little tiny bit saner.

Peace to you and your sit-and-do-nothing state.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Time is abundant

There's this idea among human beings that I used to employ myself.

If only I had more time, I could do ... X Y Z.

More time and I could write my novel. More time and I could edit my short story. More time and I could find that unique job I've always wanted.

I've been waiting around for more time all my life.

Last year, when I finally finished my novel after 10 years, I learned the most valuable lesson in my life. Time is abundant. Even for busy working moms like myself. We can do this. We can make dreams a reality.

Sometimes it means saying no and I've had to do that in some heartbreakingly hard ways this week, too. Sometimes, it means saying yes.

This year, in nothing short of good New Year's Resolution-style, I made a commitment to something, well, someone.


I vowed to fit things in that I've just never had the time for in the past. Writing is one. Exercise is another. Downtime is the last.

How though? How can I, in a single day or week, work 40-Plus hours, be a great mother of twin girls, remain as a volunteer in my community and still be a writer and a wife and someone who cares and takes care of her body? How is that humanely possible?

Until two weeks ago, I lived under this immense assumption that it wasn't possible and, lo and behold, it didn't have to be possible. By even considering doing all of these things in a single day, I was crazy. I held my own expectations up in the clouds.

And then I had a wee bit of an epiphany. What if? What if I can do it? What if I can be all of these things in a single week?

I thought it over and journaled about it and experimented with some ideas. And then it occurred to me. I didn't have to do it all each day. I just needed a schedule.

I set out to fit it all in Monday through Friday. I work out/do yoga three mornings at 5 a.m. and I write/edit two mornings. I also add a little writing and editing in at night after the girls are asleep and that's also when I get some much-needed downtime to do nothing. And, my reward for doing all of this during the work week? I get to do whatever I want on Saturdays and Sundays. The result is much less stress. No more wondering when it will happen. No more wondering how it will happen. No more trying to squeeze it in during valuable weekend family time (unless I want to).

I'm not sure why this never came to me before or why I made fitting it all in so complicated.

But now that I'm so regimented, I truly believe that time is abundant. But I have to get up and say yes, yes this is going to happen today. Or it doesn't happen.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011: A Year of Re-Reading

I covet books like people. Books have been and may always be my trophy lover. I display the best, the brightest, the ones that profoundly and amusingly changed me proudly on bookshelves. I dust them. And rearrange them. And breeze through their pages now and again with awe and admiration.

But I never re-read them.


Until now. This year, I have decided is my year. A year to re-read. A year to go back to the basics and seriously consider these books that have led me on a passion for writing novels. I want to study these favorites in a way only I can now: As someone who has written a novel.

We have all said it and heard a million times -- to be a writer, you must first read. A lot. Well, I have read a lot. But that doesn't mean that I'm always retaining some of the reasons why these books are so great.

Let me be clear. I am not reading the BBC lists or the NBC lists or even the Nobel lists.

I am reading my list. These books that I am re-reading have stayed with me since Page One. Some have moved across state lines and into and out of up to a half dozen or more places I've called home. One has been with me since middle school.

These are not just any books. These are 12 books that led me to write my own. These are the ones that inspired me along the years in my own relationships. They are the books that light me up.

I've decided to do this in four parts. Each week, I will write about a different aspect of these books from a writer's standpoint (setting, narration, character arc and plot).

I'm pretty excited to take on this project. And while it's not 365 books or even 52 books -- and while this is not an exhaustive list of books that I have loved or been awed by -- I am sure that I will learn a lot about writing and reading on this journey. I plan to share a lot with my readers as well!

I am not sure why I never re-read books. Perhaps because the idea of knowing the ending makes it hard to keep my interest. That's why this will be a fun project. I'm reading just for the wisdom I can glean as a writer, as a novelist, as someone who hopes to have one of those shiny, beautiful trophies of her own.