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Getting Back on Top of Your Goals

It’s Not too Late

The first quarter of 2018 is almost over. So, I’m going to ask that ominous question, the one that sounds like the monster that’s been hiding in your closet all these years, whose presence you keep denying to yourself.

How are your New Years’ goals coming along?

Ouch. Did that hurt? Did you feel an arrow fly into your stomach? Or maybe into your head as you suddenly remembered you even had New Years’ goals?

I’m certain you’re not alone, and I’ve got news for you: it’s not too late to start the pursuit again.

Review the Last 3 Months

This might be painful, but quarterly reviews clarify for you what’s going on. What’s really going on. They break the safety bubble you live in, because you’re faced with the good, the bad, the ugly, and the very ugly when you review your progress of the past three months. But keep this in mind: In my experience, the more honest I am with myself and my progress, the easier pursuing my goals becomes. Why? Because I fear less.

When you review your last few months, ask yourself these questions:

Am I where I want to be?

If so, what did I do that got me there? (And continue doing it.)

If not, what did I do that didn’t work? (And find a new way of doing it.)

Get Support to Reach Your Goals

If you’re on track with your goals, you probably don’t want to mess with things. But if you’re off track, then it may be time to get help.

Here’s what happened to me last year: For the first time during my annual review, I calculated how much the time I’d spent on marketing efforts, multiplied it by the hourly rate of what I’d earned for the year, and used the total as a measure of how much money I’d “spent” on marketing last year. I then reviewed how much new business I’d won over the year. The final figures weren’t pretty. In fact, they were pretty devastating. So, I contacted a marketing consultant to do an audit on my efforts and set me on the right path.

But that’s what I’m talking about. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, haven’t reached your word goal, or still have the same number of customers as last year, get help! Either join a group, see your doctor, find a good therapist or coach…Whatever your means allow, now’s the time to get a little assistance.

Do You Need to Re-Align?

The beauty with checking in on your goals every quarter like this is that it gives you a chance to re-align them with where you are now. Remember, you created your New Years’ goals in a certain frame of mind, at a certain time in your life, under a certain set of circumstances. If your situation has changed, you may need to adjust how you achieve your goals.

That’s okay!

What if you planned to write 1,000 words a week but the serious diagnosis of a loved one rammed you off course? It doesn’t mean you can’t write at all.

What if you wanted to quit smoking but in the meantime lost your job, leaving you with more stress than your non-smoking self can handle? That  doesn’t mean you can’t regain your footing. You adjust. (And, of course, get help so you can make it through.) Remember, every little bit helps, so don’t discount small, regular steps towards your goals. Not everything has to be achieved by leaps and bounds.

Don’t be Afraid

Looking at progress is a powerful motivator to help you move forward. It’ll help you figure out what’s gone wrong and hopefully inspire you to plan your next steps to get back on track.

They say every journey begins with a step. Take that next step now to get back on the path you dreamed for yourself this year.

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Mixing Work and Kids = Inspiring Your Creativity

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have a hard time balancing work and kids. Next week, we celebrate Family Day in Ontario, and I realized I’ve book the day full of work duties! But the upcoming holiday has also reminded me that your family can feed your creativity and reinvigorate your brain for work.

If you’re more on the cerebral side of the spectrum, like I am, you may find communicating with kids a little hard, because you have difficulty breaking down your thought process to their level. Heck, you may even find what they do boring, because it doesn’t challenge you intellectually. I’ve been there, I’m still there, and I’m still trying to work on it.

(Granted, as hard as I try to find interest in my kids’ hobbies, I can’t develop any amount of enthusiasm for watching YouTubers play video games.)

Over the years, though, I’ve pushed myself to spend creative time with my kids, not just chore and parenting-related time, and not only does this push my brain in different directions, but it brings me closer to my children, and I find they even listen better.

See if any of these ideas work for you.

Creative Activities for Parents and Kids

Mad Libs: You buy these as pads, usually somewhere in a bookstore. They’re short texts with blanks, and you have to fill them in. The blanks are usually described as a noun, verb, adjective, or something similar. Not only will they help your kids recognize some parts of speech, you’ll likely both find yourselves in stitches as you read back the zany story you’ve both created.

Lego: This I find hard, because I’m stuck with some old inhibitions (I can’t create anything out of Lego except basic houses), and because I need to concentrate on the very foreign world the kids have created. But nothing makes my kids happier than showing off their Lego creations, and the brain drain I experience when playing with them improves my concentration.

Sewing: If you own a sewing machine,  just letting the kids (carefully!) run some fabric through it can be fun. I used to let my older son control the foot pedal when he was four or five. But certainly use your parenting judgment here. A sewing machine does have a needle, and kids’ hands are very small.

Sports: You don’t necessarily have to play a game that already exists. My husband loves making up games with our kids, and they have a blast at it. They’ve even created their own boardgames that the two play together in the evening. I’ll admit, this is less suitable for me, because I like consistency, but then again, maybe it could force me to use my brain differently.

TV: Yes, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest you watch TV with your kids. Not only does this help you, the parent, see what they’re actually watching, but it will, again, force your brain to focus on something different. If watching YouTubers playing video games is all your kids watch, then try a movie on the weekend, with some popcorn.

Painting: Yup, show your children that they’ve probably already bested you in the arena of art. And if you are talented in art, show them one or two tips that’ll make them better. (Of course, if your kids are old enough, maybe actually painting a room might be more engaging for all of you.)

Colouring: Those adult colouring books are more than suitable for kids over the age of five. My older kid (in the junior grades) will occasionally sit in the same room with me as we both colour for ten or fifteen minutes in separate books.

Writing: My youngest loves this. He’s in the primary grades, so he still finds spelling and printing arduous. He absolutely loves to dictate a story to me as I type it out in Scrivener. I set the timer for 10 or 15 minutes (my forearms can’t handle anything longer), and he’ll easily produce 300-600 words.

Dancing: Kids don’t care how you move. If your kids is active, turn on the tunes and get dancin’!

So, those are just a few ideas of how to build in some creativity time that will help you in your profession but also connect you with your children. Do you do any of these activities already? Or other ones?

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Do You “Risk It All” for Your Dreams?

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Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

I’ve been reading self-help books on and off for years, and I wonder how they can promise that you can “have it all.” However, I also find these inspiring, and they often get me to think about my life in much different terms, and I think I’ve finally figured out how to balance my dreams with my life.

I’m reading The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer right now. I came across this advice:

That silent inner knowing will never leave you alone. You may try to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist, but in honest, alone moments of contemplative communion with yourself, you sense the emptiness waiting for you to fill it with your music. It wants you to take the risks involved, and to ignore your ego and the egos of others who tell you that an easier, safer, or more secure path is best for you. (page 152)

I love the book, but I find advice like this potentially misleading: he’s suggesting you don’t listen to your inner doubts and just take the plunge towards your dreams. For me, that would involve stopping all work and just focusing on writing fiction, which doesn’t bring in any money until you’ve developed somewhat of a following.

Tell that career decision to the bank that wants to take back your house.

Stay Safe

On the other hand, though, is the “stay safe” advice he talks of. There are varying degrees of this, at least in my experience. Here’s one side of the spectrum: An older relative of mine was once worried about the whole-grain, no-sugar diet my parents were raising me and my sister on (in the 80s and 90s, before it became trendy). The relative thought I’d have a hard time finding a husband by being on that diet. I eat sugar now, but I still prefer whole-grain baking and cooking to regular, and yet I somehow managed to find a husband AND have children with him. The relative meant well, but this is one version of the “safe” advice that Wayne Dyer is speaking of.

Here’s the other side: “You have a family to look after. Why on earth would you quit your job to become an artist?”

To which the person might respond, “Because I just know in my heart that it’s what I was meant to do.”

That last statement may be true – many of us push off what we’ve always felt to be our calling because others told us we’d never make a living with it, whatever it is.

But where are you in your life? Do you have a mortgage or rent to pay? Kids to get through university? A weekly grocery bill to feed others besides just you?

Yes, right? So, what to do?

Think of the Possibilities

Don’t be afraid of blue skies dreaming. Dream, write it down, dream some more. Many of these self-help authors are good at putting you into the right frame of mind for that. You let your mind go free with all the things you dream of, all the things you want to do and to have, and start envisioning this new version of your life.

Now, this is where I would halt the process: Before you go any further, you need to look at your life as it is now and start setting things up to work towards your dream.

You want to become a master painter? Find an appropriate painting class, sign yourself up, and squeeze in 10 minutes a day to practice.

Want to work your way up in your company? Talk to managers and ask them how they got to where they are. Then start emulating what they do. (But make it your own; as the saying goes, “Just be yourself; everyone else is taken.”)

Want to change your career? Find more responsibilities in your current job that are applicable to that career change.

I don’t want to make it sound like these ideas are easy. You may have to shift your schedule around, or risk standing out from the crowd at work…and I wonder if these are the risks Wayne Dyer is really talking about but not explaining? There are legitimate concerns surrounding any major life-changing decision, but there are also fears that hold us back, like a thick woollen blanket wrapped around you: it’s warm and cozy but immobilizing.

The trick is to differentiate the two categories.

What About Bob? Baby Steps…

I don’t know your situation, of course, but I do believe that if you want to change something for the better, you will find a way to make it happen. For me, it was deciding to forego TV after the kids were in bed and spending that time on my novel.

Would I like to spend part of each writing fiction, at a time when my brain is more functional? Yes. But I chose to have a family and a mortgage. To just drop all my streams of income to “follow my dreams” would be hugely irresponsible.

But that doesn’t make following my dreams impossible.

Don’t feel guilty or frustrated if you aren’t living your dream life. Whatever life you are living, so long as it’s generally helpful to you and others, can probably teach you something that will benefit the life you are dreaming of. But figure out what those baby steps are that can get you moving in the right direction: the real risk, in the end, may be just prying open the door.

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Art: The Balance Between You and Them

Lone tree in lakeStudying dance growing up makes you acutely aware of your body. For me, I never fully knew where I fit: After a failed audition for a major ballet school when I was 12, I was told my rib cage was the wrong shape. (My mom reminded me recently that she was told I’d need to have my floating ribs removed to have the proper curves.) However, when I auditioned for a Toronto production of Crazy For You, I fulfilled at least one requirement: Chorus members had to be 5’7” or taller. Some women tried to circumvent the requirement by wearing heels, but they were found out soon enough. (I didn’t get the role, but I fit the height requirements.)

Only 1 Person for a Role

I recently talked to two brothers, Kevin and Michael Scheitzbach, who are hip-hop artists in Brampton, just outside of Toronto. Only 17 and 21 (though actually three years apart), they’ve already learned to understand that a failed audition doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad dancers, but rather, they’re just not a right fit for that part.

“But I feel like we’ve learned to accept that maybe we’re not what they’re looking for, or maybe they needed to fit this roll differently and only one of us could book it. We’ve learned to accept it now, whenever we go to an audition. It doesn’t stop us from continuing to love what we do,” said Michael, the older brother.

If you grew up with Christopher Reeve’s Superman, you also grew up with Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane. I have a fancy box edition of the four movies (and will readily admit that the second two are pretty bad), and one DVD contains never-before-seen audition footage, including one with Stockard Channing trying out for the role of Lois Lane.

You likely know Stockard Channing as Rizzo on Grease, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Watching her play Lois Lane was an odd experience: she was just fine, but she just didn’t fit. Margot Kidder was truly the only one who fit the role. I think the edge Channing had that got her cast in Grease wasn’t right for the 70s/80s Superman franchise.

Being Like Everyone Else?

I always thought that the audition circuit in dance was about trying to make yourself fit a certain mould. There is some truth to that, but only some. It was actually about trying to find where you fit best. Yes, I fulfilled the height requirement for Crazy For You, but my personality didn’t, and for all I know, my body (aside from my height) may not have, either.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook that, because of his height, he’d never be a leading man on stage, but he also said he’s okay with that. Just the other week, I saw him perform the role of Cosmo Brown in Singin’ in the Rain, and I’d almost say he stole the show: the role fit him perfectly.

Copying at the Start

When you’re learning your art form, be it dance, writing, painting, an instrument, it’s normal to copy the masters at first. I definitely made my attempts:

  • I remember our ballet teacher having a small TV and VCR hooked up in the studio, and we’d try some of the chorus work from Swan Lake.
  • My last tap solo was to “Singin’ in the Rain,” complete with umbrella, and my dance teacher asked me to learn a piece of Gene Kelly’s choreography.
  • My friends and I often watched a movie and tried to mimic the singers. (Three teenagers trying to sound like Bette Midler one moment and then soprano Rebecca Caine the next must have required a lot of patience from our parents.)
  • When I read my manuscripts from my teen years, I can tell you exactly what TV show I was watching when I wrote it: I changed the names of the characters and the story’s location, but I copied the central plot.

Copying the masters, so long as it’s part of your learning, is how knowledge is passed down. As the old saying goes, there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel. Studying the great artists of our past merges their knowledge with ours and we don’t waste time discovering what’s already been discovered. That’s partly why dancers today can accomplish so much more than dancers from years gone by: the ones who listened to their teachers and studied those at the peak of their craft could move further faster sooner.

You at the Finish

But there comes a point in time when you realize you have something special to offer. I got to talk to former prima ballerina Evelyn Hart two months ago, and we agreed that the artists everyone reveres, in our case dancers, are not copies of someone else: they have something unique about them that no one else has.

Just take the classic examples of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire: you would never mistake one for the other, even when they’re dancing together.

I know my parents would have never had my floating ribs removed, because it would that have been a very drastic and expensive operation for a pre-teen. But something more important lay underneath my request to audition that my parents knew about: a friend of mine had disappeared that year and was studying at that school. I wanted to get in, too, just because she had done it. So, my decision to audition had nothing to do with fulfilling a dream but everything to do with being like someone else.

To be successful in your art, and (I believe) in almost anything you do, you need to find that balance between listening to your teachers, who are passing on sometimes centuries of knowledge and tradition, and growing into who you truly are. For some, it’s an easy journey; for others, like me, it’s more difficult. But it is possible.

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The Importance of Saying No

Young woman with exaggerated frown, hands extended forward in a thumbs-down motion.This week’s post is a quick one: It’s about the importance of saying no.

We once had cookbook author Charmian Christie join us at our writers’ meeting (we belong to the same association), and she said something that I, granted, forgot (and therefore didn’t heed) but then saw again when I recently reviewed my notes. It was this: It’s what you say no to that defines your business, not what you accept.

Think of it like a building with a lot of corridors. When you step into the building and see four doors in front of you, each one leading down a different hallway, you have to say no to three of them to embark on your path down one of them. If you don’t make that decision right away, you end up spending time – maybe years – figuring out which one is the best choice. But eventually, you have to make that decision (even if for the simple reason of finding a toilet). Each step you take further and further down that hallway is one more no to going back.

When it comes to your art, the same rule will likely apply to much of what you do: once you choose a genre or medium, there are certain conventions you have to follow, and you’ve now defined that piece of art as belonging to that genre or being produced using that medium. So, writing a romantic comedy with a gruesome killing befitting a horror novel would likely not be in your best interests. Likewise, if you’re going to write a novel like that, you’re doing so knowing that you’re producing something that goes against convention. Either way, you’ve made a choice to go down a specific path.

Why is this important? It helps you to stay on track. I just spent about 90 minutes today, for example, working on a blog post about learning a foreign language. I ended up saying yes to a lot of ideas, and it got so unwieldy, I had to set it aside if I wanted to hit my goal of one blog post a week this year. (My deadline for this week expires in about 105 minutes.)

The same happened to the first draft of my novel: I wanted to say so much with it and achieve so many things that it became one huge, 92,000-word juggling act. I’m not done with the second draft yet, but I can tell you it’s much more focused and is receiving good feedback.

So, whether you’re planning your business or attempting a new work of art (whatever your discipline is), don’t be afraid to say no to ideas that come along: it will likely strengthen your art rather than weaken it.

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The Power of Focus in Your Art

oqx70jjbslomi5ackhxm_urbex-ppc-030Last month, an editor whose blog I’d been following for over a year offered me a free consultation, because the 20 pages I’d sent to her for feedback (paid service) showed her enough problems she wanted to give me a shout. Long story short, she said to restart a novel I’d been working on for the past two years. Ouch.

But I took her advice. The original one had grown to 92,000 words, I was on ending #7, and I had more plates in the plot’s air than a 20-year circus veteran. Even worse, I didn’t know how to make them stop spinning without breaking them. My gut feeling said to restart, but I ignored it: who wants to restart 92,000 words? I needed a kick in the ass to make it happen, and that freelance editor was it. She also helped me decide what to focus on, and something that had been right in front of my nose finally made it inside my brain. Let me explain.

Over the past three months, I’ve spent a lot of time at our local roadhouse theatre (disclaimer: also my client). I sat a few rows away from American folk and rock legend David Crosby, kids’ entertainment powerhouse The Wiggles, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, National Geographic photojournalist Brian Skerry, and West End and Broadway superstar Colm Wilkinson. The main similarity was that each artist, The Wiggles included, had distilled their artistic lives into a two-hour show:

  • Crosby condensed his 50+ years in the music business and included songs from a newly released album.
  • The Wiggles song catalogue, 25 years old and growing, apparently has over 1,000 melodies in it, yet the group only performed a handful plus some from a new release.
  • Chris Hadfield had stories, songs, and photographs to share with us about Canada and space exploration. He even included some family history. That’s about a hundred years of stories reduced to two hours.
  • Brian Skerry just finished 19 years at National Geographic. He filtered that down to two hours.
  • Colm Wilkinson has been performing on stage since the 70s, almost as long as Crosby. He picked his favourite songs and sang for two hours.

In only two hours, they had invited me into their lives and shared something significant with me (and the other 1,000-2,000 in the theatre) that remained in my soul. Two hours. Clearly I was wasting time and words in my novel of 92,000 words.

So that begged the question: what is the true focus of my novel? I won’t answer that here, but I was giving each topic I’d raised in it equal time; I didn’t see where I could connect and layer them. My goal now is to publish a novel under 60,000 words.

This is also a question you should ask yourself about your art. I think we keep adding material because we’re either afraid of running out of something to say or too scared to dive into it more. (Feb/17 update: This blog post talks more about digging deeper.)

Some time in the early fall, I returned to my old improv group for a workshop. The topic was working with what you already have and not constantly searching for new stuff. Despite the workshop leader’s best intentions, I couldn’t home in on that skill anymore, and I wonder if I even had it to begin with.

I believe that part of what makes an artist successful is the ability to reduce an idea to its core and then explore it from there. For most artists, that will mean digging into some personal stuff, even if the piece of art isn’t about something personal. But it’s that kind of focus that will, I believe, let you connect with your audience, because you’ll give a voice to the depths of their own emotions.

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Comfort Zones: Potential Danger for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Everyone in Between

Comfort zones are those nice, cozy, warm, fuzzy parts in our mind that convince us to stay put. They have a purpose: respite. But like any spa, too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing (and, frankly, become very expensive).

I recently interviewed a sportscaster for a magazine article, and time and again she emphasized how important it was for her to get out of her comfort zone. She was a trained dancer, but when she got accepted into a well-known musical theatre program in Canada, she spent three years singing in front of others. For her, that was terrifying. But it allowed other opportunities to flow her way.

Hindsight is 20/20, as you know. In my case, my comfort zone in dance became so strong that I even stood in the same spot in the studio as often as possible: the right front corner. I even said I’d have my ashes buried there. The building, though, has since been razed and replaced with a more modern business building. I’ll have somewhere else to inter my ashes.

With writing, it was the same: I wrote about characters I knew, either by attempting a novel for a franchise or copying TV characters from my favourite shows; created plots familiar to me from same sources of inspiration as the characters; and did not expose my heart to my readers, a necessity for creative writing. In my youth, that was a fine path to follow, because I may not have been ready to show my vulnerability back then. This was before social media, of course, but one well-intentioned piece of feedback from a teacher, friend, or parent can hurt you as much as a stranger’s public criticism of your work these days, maybe even more so. I was looking for approval, not feedback, and using my personal creations for that purpose wasn’t the best idea.

Since January 2015, I’ve been working on a novel. It started as a creative challenge to myself: write 10,000 words by December. I hit that goal by mid-February and kept going. (Now, I’m at 92,000.) I’ve submitted the first three chapters to two editors, a friend, and a family member for feedback, and yes, some of the feedback hurt. But age does something to you besides give you wrinkles: it gives you strength and confidence…if you let yourself push past your comfort zone. Their input made me stop writing and go back to character and plot development. I have some major re-working to do, but the piece will hopefully come out stronger in the end. (The feedback is dead on – we’ll see if the writer can make it work.)

Of course, the usual disclaimer: we’re talking about personal goals here, not seeing how long you can wait for a car to approach before you dart across the street without getting hit.

I think it’s wrong to assume that everyone wants to achieve huge monetary success, but I think it’s right to assume that everyone has dreams that will seem big to some and small to others. For some, being able to free their voice and speak up in front of others is a huge dream. For others, it’s normal life. For some, living off $50,000 a year while also saving money is the big goal. For others, that’s reality and they can’t fathom why someone would find that hard to accomplish.

Whatever the goal, it’ll push you. But what I’m finding is that, like my interviewee, you won’t experience the freedom that comes from reaching those goals unless you cross the boundaries of your comfort zone, even just a smidgen. (Just stay out of the path of moving vehicles.)

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What’s Your Constellation of Images? How to Find Your Voice

A hodge podge of older cameras.Last time, I reflected on how writing from your past can help you develop your voice, since you’re the only one who has experienced your past. (I also gave you a few warnings about writing about people from your past.)

I just finished Word Painting: The Fine Art of Writing Descriptively (Revised Edition) by Rebecca McClanahan. She introduced me to the concept of a constellation of images, first described by American poet Stanley Kunitz. He says,

You have at the center of your being a conglomeration of feelings, emotions, memories, traumas that are uniquely yours, that nobody else on earth can duplicate. They are the clue to your identity. If you don’t track them down, lay claim to them, bring them out into the light, they’ll eventually possess you, they’ll fester, or erupt into compulsive behavior. The farther you stray from your center, the more you will be lost. That’s one of the teachings of Lao-tzu. When you’re there, at the existential core, you’ll know it. Hopkins said in one of his letters that he could taste himself, and the taste was more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, or the smell of walnutleaf or camphor. You can tell the poets who are working at their center by the distinctiveness of their voice, their constellation of key images, their instantly recognizable beat. (Source: Columbia Journal.)

In a 2000 interview with Elizabeth Farnsworth on PBS, he explains this a little further:

I think a poem lies submerged in the depths of one’s being. It’s an amalgamation of images, often the key images out of a life. I think there are certain episodes in the life that really form a constellation, and that’s the germinal point of the poems. The poems, when they come with an incident from the immediate present, latch on to those images that are deep in one’s whole sensibility, and when that happens, everything starts firing at once.

I recently experienced this myself. A few weeks ago, I suddenly needed to watch a movie I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. I used to watch it obsessively in my 20s, and I also forked out lots of money to see it in live performances (it was a musical). But for the last six or seven years, I could’ve cared less about it. The immediate desire to watch it really surprised me, so I watched it over two nights that week.

On my 5-kilometre walk home from work, a story suddenly hit me out of the blue, completely unrelated to the novel I’m also working on. I had my smartphone with me, so I recorded my thoughts as I walked. That night, after the kids had gone to sleep, I spent 90 minutes writing down what I’d recorded and then adding to it. I had 3,000 words by the time I was done. It needs work, of course, and much refining, but something was dying to get out. I don’t recall the last time I had so much clarity in creative writing.

Although Kunitz was referring to writing and poetry, this concept can apply to any art form. Perhaps certain motifs or colours repeatedly sneak their way in to your paintings, or you feel drawn to certain moves in dance. Timothy Schmalz, a local sculptor likely best known for his sculpture Homeless Jesus, uses the Gospel as his constellation of images. Mine has always been clear to me, though I only admitted it for the first time that weekend. (Sorry, I won’t share it here.)

If yours isn’t immediately apparent to you, McClanahan has a few suggestions on how to discover it:

  • Reread previous writing and watch out for “successful images or metaphors, those passages that seem to have sprung from imagination, not fancy.” (She means organic images, not ones that are forced or contrived, along the lines of “Gee, I think I need a metaphor here.”)
  • Highlight images, descriptions, even individual words that recur throughout your work. You can even use a computer’s search function if you have digital writing files.
  • You can use online apps that create “word clouds” to help you better visualize your constellation of images.

She further advises, “Repeated patterns of any kind in our work – words, phrases, objects, colors, places, events, people, sounds – are there for a reason. We should pay attention to them.” However, she also cautions about being too objective with this process, with removing the emotion out of it.

By paying attention to the images that have snuck their way into our art, we can more easily find the sources of our originality and therefore our true voice.

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6 Tips to Help You Get Some Creative Time With Kids in the House

A lone tree in the midst of a lake.If you’re a parent, chances are you have to watch your kids while trying to schedule in some creative time for yourself. Sure, you can get down and dirty with them, get yourself covered in paint or mud, and have loads of fun, too. However, you likely once in a while feel the need to work at your own creative pursuits. I’ve found a few ideas that work for times when I need to work on my writing with minimal interruptions. Maybe some will help you in your creative endeavours, too.

Your children’s age will depend on how much you can accomplish. In the early years, when children are very young, you may simply need to arrange for extra help or be satisfied with what you can squeeze in:

  • A tiny human often requires more attention than you have hours in a day.
  • You shouldn’t leave your eyes off a toddler, especially if you want your kitchen cupboards to stay intact.
  • Kids in the midst of toilet training are an accident waiting to happen (that you need to clean up).

My kids are in elementary school and by no means independent enough to look after themselves for an hour or two while I work away at the computer. I’ve found few ways, though, to integrate my work into their lives.

Idea #1:

I rarely write at the computer when home alone with the kids. My kids run to the computer as strongly as most working adults run away from it. I lose my patience easily when I get interrupted so frequently that the period I’m aiming for seems two miles away. My best alternative is to avoid the situation altogether.

Idea #2:

Therefore, I work with paper and pen at a table, usually brainstorming. I have enough projects on the go (paid and personal) that I always have something to brainstorm. Doing this after a meal works best, because my kids are re-energized, usually happy, and eager to play with each other.

Idea #3:

I taught my kids how to knock. (If you don’t have a separate room, teaching them to say, “Excuse me, Mom/Dad,” could play the same role.) I can then finish my thought/sentence and turn off my timer. Then I tell them to come in, and they have 100% of my attention. If my husband’s home, though, they get a very quick, “Mommy’s working. You have to ask Daddy.” Which brings me to Way #4:

Idea #4:

I set reasonable boundaries for their ages. I can set the oven timer for 20 minutes and ask my kids not to disturb me until it beeps. However, because of Rule #1, I only use this when I’m alone with the kids and facing a tight deadline. I’ve also heard that having a box with special activities reserved for such times can help, but it didn’t work for me.

Idea #5:

Ask for help. Whether it’s the grandparents, your significant other, a trusted friend, or paid child care, if you need a long stretch of creativity time, you may need to bring in the cavalry. Kids are programmed to desire their parents’ company, but having someone else in the house who loves them, or at least cares enough about them to have fun with them, may give you that extra space to work on your project.

Idea #6:

I spend scheduled time with them each day, and ensure that work is far from my mind. I don’t write between 3:00 and 4:00 so I can pick up the kids from the bus, have a snack with them, see if they have homework, etc. I also read to them many nights of the week. I limit writing on the weekends, again, depending on my workload.

Think through your own rules carefully to make sure they’re appropriate for your family’s situation, but then gently enforce them. Be understanding that kids need help when things change, especially when the kids are really young. Based on my experience, the angrier I get with the kids, the angrier they get with each other, and I have to frequently stop what I’m doing to break up their fights. Gentleness, patience, and consistency usually ensure longer periods of time for me.

One warning, though: whatever you do, don’t make your creative pursuit appear like something that’s keeping you away from your kids. Children may grow jealous of your hobby/job instead of being inspired by it. Just be gentle with your children. In my few years of parenthood, I’ve learned that patience and teaching generally beat force if I’m looking for long-term compliance.

Do you have any tips on how to carve out some creativity time for yourself with kids in the home?

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Learning From Others

Tap shoes lying on the floorPerhaps one of my most loathed experiences in my youth was dance workshops, which was a shame, because the opportunities to learn from those was immense.

It actually didn’t matter if I was in a large room full of hundreds of dancers and a well-known teacher instructing us via a make-shift stage and a microphone, or if I participated in a comparatively small summer camp at another local studio. Without the comfort of my studio, my teachers, my close friends, and my preferred spot in the room (front right corner), I felt out of place and awkward, despite being a decent dancer. I don’t know how many workshops and dance camps I attended in my teen years. It had to have been at least 50, maybe more. That’s 50 different teachers I could’ve learned from.

That was probably the worst attitude to have as a developing artist. To me, art is where a certain technique is used to express our emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Learning from other teachers, even if only for an hour or two, broadens the language we use to express ourselves and can therefore only benefit our development of our art.

Whether you’re trying an art form for the first time, like a beginner recreational dance class, or you’re seasoned at what you do, always remember that you have a lot to learn from other artists in your field. Don’t believe that you have to know it all in order to do well. Believe that you have to trust yourself in order to do well. Then watch your art fly.