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Lindsey Learns to Write

Creativity. Authenticity. Curiosity.

Sthira-sukham asanam: the writing edition

“Can you do this in such a way that you’ll want to do it again tomorrow?”

—Brie, yoga instructor

I am in the process of a re-write on a novel. In the last couple of weeks, the only time that I’ve had success working on it has been late at night after the kiddo and husband are asleep. The result has been staying up way past my bedtime and into the wee hours of the morning. I was talking to my coach, Michael, about it in our last session.

“I feel lousy when I don’t get to sleep enough, but I feel worse when I don’t make anything. But is this really sustainable? I don’t know. At least I’m getting something done.”

At the end of our session, he said, “I’m so stinkin’ proud of you for doing the work you’d love to be doing. Parting question, don’t answer now, just think about it. What would it look like to do this work with clarity, focus, ease, and grace?” Emphasis on the ease.

Cue a week of pondering on this.

Hmm. What would that look like? Is it the imagined scene of me as the productive writer at the super sweet antique desk in my secluded mountain cabin?
No, can’t be. That cabin is a distant future thing. Surely, I must be able to write with clarity, focus, ease, and grace right now. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have asked the question.
How would I do that?
Maybe it’s a trick question.


This sucks. I don’t do anything with clarity focus, ease, and grace. I can maybe get two of the four, but never all four.
And if writing a book isn’t easy, how can I do it with ease?
Can you work hard with ease?

I must be a failure at writing because I can’t do it with ease.
Don’t be so dramatic. Just do your work and stop over-thinking this.

Meanwhile, at yoga that night, my instructor opened by saying that on her drive to class, she  felt inspired to talk about being at ease. Doing yoga easefully. Living easefully.

Aw, jeez. That thing is happening again where the universe sends me the same message from multiple people at once.

A different yoga instructor talked about ease a few days later. She said something that I’ve heard several times in my decade+ practicing. She gave the quote from Pantajali’s Yoga Sutra, “Sthira-sukham asanam.” I’ve most frequently heard this translated as “find balance between effort and ease,” but I found a great article on this from YogaInternational.com where a different translation is given. It said, “resolutely abide in a good place.”

Okay, good. Insight. When I go to yoga, how do I balance effort and ease? How do I abide in a good place?

After a good deal of reflection, I summed up some sweet yoga wisdom.

1. Observe the quality of my breath. Am I breathing shallow or deep? Breathing fast or slow? If I catch myself holding my breath, I can automatically tell that I am trying too hard. My ego has taken over and I’m missing the point. The whole thing is about making space in my body for breath.
2. Be grounded. Feel my connection, support, and sturdiness coming from the ground beneath me.
3. Engage my core. Fire up those muscles. Breathe into them. Let them offer supple support.
4. Check in with the joy and peace elements. Am I glad I’m doing this? Is this something I can do again tomorrow? Does this bring me peace?
5. Remember, it’s all practice. Practice takes off the pressure to achieve perfection every time. Every day is a little different because the state of the mind and body are constantly shifting.

Here’s a re-make of the list with writing in place of yoga. How can I resolutely abide in a good place relative to writing?

1. Observe the quality of my breath. Writing is the breath. Are the words flowing easily? Or sticking? Am I making space for the story or trying to control it? Am I focused on the result or the process?
2. Be grounded. I have support all around me (family, friends, coach, etc.) and from within. Stand firmly in that conviction.
3. Engage my core. First, literally, watch the posture because slouching over a computer is bad for you. Second, writing is an outlet for the workings of my core. My values and dreams are my drivers. The more I work from the core, the more authentic writing I produce.
4. Check in with the joy and peace elements. For me, this is manifesting as allowing what I can do to be enough. I have the tendency to beat myself up for not getting “enough” done. Not sleeping just makes me a cranky zombie-type person. Sometimes, I do get caught up in writing something and stay up late, but doing that every night is not sustainable. What I can do while maintaining the peace and joy elements is enough.
5. Remember, it’s all practice. Writing is a practice. Every time I sit down to work, I learn and grow as a creative. There is no perfection (although the perfectionist in me would love to argue about that). And the process might be different from day to day because I am a whole person with a mind and body in dynamic state.

So, what would writing with clarity, focus, ease, and grace look like?

Resolutely abiding in the good place.

And doing just the right amount of work so that I’ll want to do this again tomorrow.

Dancing in the dark to the songs in my heart

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

I’ve always believed that if you’re going to spend 40 hours a week doing something for most of your life, it should matter to you. It should affect a positive change in your community. Something I heard a lot as a young person was that work was not meant to be fun, it was just a means to an end. I’ve never bought it, though. As I went through college and grad school, I solidified my conviction that the thing you do with your life should be something that wells from your soulspring. Something authentic. Something true. Something that connects you to other humans, because isn’t that what a meaningful life is all about?

That all sounds awesome, right?

Sign me up. How do I get there? What does that journey feel like? Different for everybody, yes, but not easy for anybody. Why is that?

In my experience, the reality has been that stepping toward my calling has been slow, difficult and fraught with fear. Openly listening to your inner voice is hard sometimes. Taking steps toward your passion requires vulnerability and courage. It can be supremely uncomfortable. Other people are watching.

Yet, the universe keeps sending me signs. A cascade of those have come together for me this week: reading Rising Strong, a great blog post from my life coach, music from MUNA, several years of subconscious digestion of some stuff a friend said, and a Bruce Springsteen song. I know, it’s a lot. Stay with me.

I have been reading Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. The title is in reference to the many metaphorical falls we take in our pursuit of a wholehearted life. How we get up from those falls matters. Reading it has helped me start the painful, yet fascinating process of embracing and exploring my difficult emotions and my personal narrative. Suffice it to say that this is a book that has asked me to do a lot of inner work.

Also this week, my coach, Michael, wrote a on blog post called Being the Instrument for your Vision. It was about his journey to coaching. He talked about the way things start to fall into place in an almost magical way when you authentically pursue your calling. It is as if the universe is nudging you toward your calling and nodding to you when you take steps in that direction. A line that resonated with me was this, “Learn to dance with the songs in your heart.”

Michael’s post reminded me of when my fervor for following one’s calling was ignited. I was in grad school. I was spending a significant amount of time time talking to passionate people about what brought them to life (some of the most meaningful hours of my life). One of those people was a colleague in the student affairs office where I worked. We talked at length about identifying one’s calling and moving past the (often self-imposed) roadblocks to achieving it.

A couple of years after we had both left that office, he wrote a (super awesome, life-changing) book on the subject (Reset by Dustin Peterson). In it, he says, “Every move I have made has been a step into the darkness, only to find that the the next step or two are illuminated for me, but almost never more than that.” He goes on to make two other important points. Firstly, a step into the darkness is an action. Secondly, that uncertainty, the darkness, is uncomfortable, but worth it anyway.

I’ve been thinking about this, consciously and subconsciously for a couple of years. If I’m being honest with myself, I have to admit that I spent a long time sitting in the darkness, actionless. That manifests as hand-wringing, waiting until circumstances are better, and avoiding painful feelings. I was trying to straddle the line between light and dark so that I could back out if I started to feel too scared. In recent months, I’ve felt the shift of embracing the uncertainty, adjusting to the darkness.

So, anyway, there I was, sitting in my stew of Brene-Brown-inspired emotional vulnerability, reading Michael’s post and being reminded of what I know to be true about pursuing my calling. I got overwhelmed, so I checked out another friend’s blog (he was also a huge part of my transformative grad school experience). He made a post about protest music. One of the songs, I Know a Place by MUNA, was basically like the universe saying, “No, really, we’re talking about this right now.” Give it a listen.

“When you get nervous, you think being yourself means being unworthy. And it’s hard to love with a heart that’s hurting. But if you feel like going out dancing, I know a place.”

Did you hear the invitation? Sheesh.

It’s time to step into the darkness. In a recent coaching session, I remember saying that I felt like I was scrambling around in the dark, bumping into stuff and feeling like a mess. But Michael and MUNA gifted me with a different perspective. They both said dance.

Which obviously led me to Bruce Springsteen. I had no idea that the lyrics to this one would be so spot on (did you hear the line that says “I’m getting tired of sittin’ around here trying to write this book?”

So here it is. I’m working from the raw nerve and I’m showing you. I’m hurting and afraid in this moment. Despite that, as the lyrics to the MUNA song say, I’m giving you trust and watching what happens. I’m doing this because I believe that our world is made better by people who share their genuine talents and experiences and truly engage with their calling. Doing that takes gumption and the knowledge that you’re not alone if you are completely freaked out by the whole endeavor.

Oh, and here’s one more sweet gem of honesty that I’m going share. I don’t know precisely what my calling looks like in practice. Writing is involved, for sure. But there’s also an element of coaching, encouraging, inspiring, and helping someone speak a truth that is hard to articulate. I have more to explore.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just be dancing in the dark to the songs in my heart (I know that sounds glib, but I’m completely serious).

Care to join me?

Go-to Inspiration or Go to Inspiration, Whichever

It is important to go after things that inspire you. I mean, yeah, as a creator, there are some days when inspiration can’t get its fingers into your hair, and you still have to get work done. Keep a running list of stuff you love/find inspirational and return to it on days like that.

So, this morning, I was feeling grouchypants and annoyed and shaking my head at my husband for not helping with his helpfulness (bless his heart). I decided that I was going to seek out something to inspire me. I sat down at the lappy and started looking through stuff from an old tumblr I had.

It made me think – you know, keeping a tumblr or blog of things that inspire you is a good idea. You’re human. You’re going to have days that just feel off. Instead of trying to pretend it doesn’t happen, or won’t happen in the future, just embrace it.

Here are 3 things that made my heart more full this morning.

1. A quote from John O’Callaghan: “It’s okay to do things the way you want. There is no map to life, no blueprint to survival. You can create your world day by day if you have a clear vision and an unwillingness to give up.”

2. A sweet, mushy, lovey moment from Inuyasha. Eeps!

3. An episode of Writing Excuses – How Context Shapes Plot Twists

So now I’m going to take my kiddo for a walk and keep working on digging out of this funky mood. I’ve got a writing session scheduled tonight and I have some planning to do.

Enjoy your go-to inspiration. Or go find some new inspiration today.

Learning to love what’s good for you

Remember in New Moon when Charlie tells Bella that she’s gotta learn to love what’s good for her? That little snippet of advice has been playing in my mind over and over for the last couple of weeks. I guess the universe is trying to tell me something.

Over the last week, I’ve been making an earnest attempt to listen. Here’s the list of stuff I’ve been trying to do even when I don’t want to.

  1. Getting some exercise. I need to go outside for a walk every day.
    Next up:  I need to go outside for a run about 3 times per week. And in addition to that, I need to either start or join a group of other mamas who are running together so that I have some social interaction with grown ups.
  2. Eating like I know I should. I need to consume way less sugar and way more veggies and protein. Bah. I hate it. I hate it because I love sugar so much. It’s one of my major coping mechanisms. But, exercise begets a better diet. I learned that when I was training for my half marathon. I didn’t want to eat a bunch of junk. I wanted nutrients to fuel me for my running activities.
  3. Giving myself a break with writing. I am still learning (in spite of having been writing for more than 10 years). It’s okay to get stuck. It is okay to take the time to figure out what will make the story work. It is okay.
  4. Taking care of housework even if I am really effing tired and my baby doesn’t want me to do it. Once I get started, I really only need about an hour to get the apartment in order (unless I’ve put off dishes for a few days). Keeping up with the housework every day makes it easier for me to make time for playing with my sweet baby, writing, and relaxing in the evening.
  5. Cutting down on screen time. Except on my kindle. I’m trying to be more present and waste less time. Facebook and email are time sinks. 

Every day is a new day. There’s lots of work to be done. Gotta get to it.

Review: Legend

61t9jwddgyl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Title:  Legend
Series:  Legend #1
Author:  Marie Lu
Publisher:  Speak (an imprint of Penguin – YA books)
Agent:  Kristin Nelson

June is a prodigy. Everyone is impressed when she’s reported as the first and only person to earn a perfect score in her Trial. She takes the fast track through her education and can’t wait to get into the field and help the military achieve its goals in the war against the Patriots and the Colonies. Her first mission is to take down Day, a mysterious and highly sought after criminal who has been accused of a variety of crimes against the Republic, not the least of which is the murder of June’s brother. June goes undercover to find Day and bring him to justice. It isn’t very long before June is forced to question everything she’s been taught by the Republic.

Day’s family thinks he’s dead. It’s safer for them that way. If he gets an opportunity to foul things up for the Republic in a non-violent way, he’ll take it. He wouldn’t want them to be punished for that. Ordinarily, Day is extremely careful with his plots, but when his younger brother is taken ill with the plague, Day is forced to act quickly. His attempt to steal a cure from a local hospital sparks a series of events that will change his life. And being hunted by a disguised Republic officer doesn’t help matters. Especially as he finds himself so attracted to her.

Legend is a story about loss, blame, learning to question absolute truths, falling in love and making hard choices. There were so many things that worked in this novel. Lu has created characters that I can identify with. June is coming of age, learning to trust in herself and to question what has always been spoon fed to her as truth. Day has endured a great deal of tragedy, yet retains a deeply noble character. I really want him to succeed and to finally see justice win out.

The tension and stakes were well done in this story. June and Day always go from the frying pan into the fire. I think what made it work so well is that I wanted the same thing for both of them, but for different reasons. I wanted June to realize the danger she was in as she learned more of the truth about the Republic. I wanted Day to prevail against the evil that the Republic had done to his family.

I’m most looking forward to learning about the dystopian society in the next book, Prodigy. I have really only seen a bit of what the Patriots are like and I’m curious to see how the Republic’s depiction of the Colonies differs from reality.

5 things I learned from running

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time. Months, even. I keep thinking that a lot of the lessons I learned seem kind of cliche. But whatever. I’m writing about them anyway because nobody reads this blog but me.

So here are the lessons I learned from running:

1. I am a runner because I run. Dumb right? Obvious. It was weird to have the realization that I’d become a runner. At first, I wouldn’t have called myself that. I could only run for about a minute before I felt like I was going to fall over. But I was still running. I was a runner before I was a good runner.

2. You have to work up to your goal. If you could already do it, there would be no point in setting the goal in the first place. And it is good to stretch your abilities. It is okay to do just what you can do comfortably plus a little extra. When I first started training, I embraced the concept of intervals. I would run for 1 minute and then walk for 1 minute. As I developed some endurance, I went to running for 2 minutes and walking for 1. Then I progressed to 3:1. Now I can run for 40 minutes if I want to. For long distances, I usually stick to a 4:1 ratio because it feels like my sweet spot. I could go for days on that interval. And, now that I feel reasonably sure that I can attain my goal of running 13.1 miles in one stint, I’ve come up with other goals that I want to go for.

3. Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t wanna do. For example, if you are training for a half marathon, you have to actually practice running long distances. And if you happen to be training for a half marathon in the heat of summer, sometimes you have to get up super early so that you can run for 2 hours before the sun burns your ginger skin. Really, once you get past the rolling out of bed at 6 am thing, the run actually feels pretty good.

4. In the large scheme of the training plan, it is okay to miss a few runs. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. It just means that you missed a few. It’s not like you’re quitting, you just had something else to do. Don’t beat yourself up, just do your next run and forget about it.

5. Community is important. Training with my husband has been a huge help. It is nice to have somebody to keep you company because, let’s face it, running alone gets boring fast. In addition to that, several of my co-workers are also training for the half. I feel supported by the group, which is new for me (I usually avoid group activities). We can all talk about the woes of running and the joys. Plus, I know somebody is going to ask me on Monday how my weekend running went, so I’m less likely to skip. It’s great. And if I’m being totally honest, this brings out my competitive nature a little. I want to do well and I don’t want to be left in the dust.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this blast of cliche! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Rebooting…again.

I am always trying to figure out how to make writing a bigger part of my life, but without being able to quit a day job. Working it in around other responsibilities is hard. There just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day. But also I have this personal habit of quitting when things get hard or boring. I felt like I was going around in circles with my writing and that I didn’t have the hours I needed in order to make something really good.

So I decided to try something else. In April, I started training for a half marathon. I know that you don’t know me, but trust me when I say that this was hugely unlike me. I’ve never really been a runner before. If you’d asked me even a year ago if I would run a half marathon I would have laughed. The whole thing was kind of weird. I did a couple of short fun runs (a 5k and a 5 mi) and then I was hooked. The 5k was easy and fun and my friends wanted to do it. The 5 mile run was different. I’d been jogging a little bit before it in order to get ready. When the night of the run came around, I walked most of it with my husband and another  friend, but by the end, we just decided we wanted to be done. We ran a whole mile without getting all that winded.

After that, things happened really fast. I don’t know how we decided that we were going to do a half marathon. A big group of my co-workers were also training for it, so I think that helped. I’ve been training ever since. I’m actually pretty proud of myself. I’ve dropped 10 pounds, I can run for a few miles without having to rest, and I just feel healthier.

So what’s the key? And what can I learn from this to apply to writing? Well, it’s sure nice to have a group of people to help you feel motivated! And it is kind of awesome what you can accomplish if you stop overthinking and just do the thing you want to do!

Not all who wander are lost…but I kind of am.

I’ve been wandering in the desert for the last few weeks. Parched, exhausted, and unable to determine which direction is north. I guess that’s okay since I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go north anyway. That’s the thing about wandering. As Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

How did I even get to the desert in the first place? A running theme in my life has been avoidance of the desert (not dessert though, just fyi). Sometimes life just takes me there, though. Do you ever wake up to find that you’re a million miles from the place you were trying to go? Was my map oriented incorrectly? Was my destination mislabeled? Probably neither. In truth, I just wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. The landmarks along the way all indicated that I was nearing the wasteland, but I kept trudging along anyway as if I expected a gateway to open up in front of me to save me from the fate I was walking in to.

Why do I do that?

I keep asking myself the question over and over again. I want to be a writer. But every single day I take a step farther away from that goal. I choose not to spend time writing. I choose to prioritize my day job even after I’ve worked the required hours. What’s wrong with me?

Frankly, trying to develop a life as a writer is hard. Add the day job, marriage, and social anxiety to that. Holy crap. It is hard. Some days I feel like it’s impossible. But when I give in to that defeat, that fear, I lose all sense of meaning in my life. I wind up in the existential desert wondering how I got here and why nobody will rescue me.

Here’s the truth:  not many people even know I’m in the desert. And it’s not anybody else’s job to rescue me. I’ve got to find a way to get myself to the place that I want to go. Not that I can’t stop for directions every now and again. But I am the one traveling this road. I can’t expect anybody to go along with me or carry me (even though that would be pretty sweet).

TEDTalk: Randy Pausch

Wow. This was so good. It made me cry a little. And laugh a lot. And think.

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