This weekend marked the 52nd Vermont Maple Festival. Perhaps you've heard of it? It's been featured in several prominent U.S. magazines and draws thousands from around the U.S., and even the world.
This celebration of all things maple is one of perks of living here in northwestern Vermont. In the past few days I've discovered the bliss that is maple syrup dipped French fries (wow!) and met some wonderful "neighbors" at the local craft show where I shared a table with two other awesome Vermont authors.
For the past few years fellow Vermont author, Beth Kanell, and I have shared a booth at the Maple Festival craft show. This year we were joined by a third Vermont author, Lori MacLaughlin.
Beth writes beautiful poetry and historical novels for the YA crowd (her newest has just come out, The Long Shadow, and I can't wait to read it!). Lori focuses on fantasy and writes entertaining and adventurous books that are hard to put down. Her newest book, The Road Once Taken, has just come out on Kindle and will be available in paperback very soon.
And if that wasn't enough, I also got to finally meet the wonderful, witty and completely personable Vermont author, Kathryn Guare, last week as well. We've chatted online before but it was lovely to meet her face-to-face and talk shop. The hour and a half we spent discussing plots and exchanging publishing tips felt like 20 minutes!
It's always a pleasure to join forces with other local authors. Do you like to read books based in your area? Why or why not?
If you're a creative, you likely feel guilty when you take time "away" from "real life" to practice your art. This is an epidemic in the creative field and one that I am becoming more and more frustrated by.
Too few artists and writers and musicians have the luxury of doing their work on a full-time basis. When we talk about making our art as our career, it's often in awe-laced voices. Smile lines around the eyes deepen and a happy glow radiates from our faces. Phrased like, “Someday…" and “When I retire…" and “Wouldn’t it be wonderful …” are common phrases we too often mutter.
Why is the world set up in a way so that bankers and accountants and software engineers and business owners are lauded and given the head nod of approval, while those of us who create are told to “do it in your free time?” Where has the respect for art and creativity gone? Why do we as a culture no longer embrace the creative gifts the same way as we did in the Renaissance Period?
Maybe my view is skewed. I certainly didn't get enough sleep last night. Still, it irks me that creatives gifts are seen as “less than,” because our society views money-making endeavors as more important. But when did the dollar bill outshine the importance of creating? When did the banks become more important than the art galleries, and Wall Street more valued than creative expression?
When did we decide as a culture that working 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week in a cubicle or warehouse or office was more important than living a full life, one that includes creative expression and communication—not just as a “side hustle,” but as our life’s work?
This is one of the reasons that I recently joined Patreon. Unfamiliar with this community? It's a platform that allows art patrons to support artists and their creative endeavors. I've been thinking for joining for a long time, but that little voice in my head held me back.
"Who are you to think that people would want to support your writing?"
"Don't you think that people have more important things to spend money on?"
"Get over yourself. There is no way that you'll get anyone to take a chance on your work."
Of course, that sealed the deal. If I've learned one thing from that negative, critical voice over the years it's this: do exactly what it fears most.
So I created an account on Patreon. You can watch the video below for more information, or check out my page there right now.
I believe that creativity matters. I believe that people love books and stories. And I believe that my career as an author and writer will grow stronger with the support of a community.
I’m not going to spout the benefits of carving out more free moments in your overly-full schedule (I’m guessing your harried enough to know that you want, no need, to make some changes), so I want to point out a practice that might just be life-changing.
The practice is ancient but feels strangely foreign to most of us. It includes slowing down, making space, freeing one’s thoughts and hopefully gaining insight, clarity and peace. What is this magical, mysterious practice?
The #1 Cure for Weekly Overwhelm
Faith-based individuals call it a “Shabbat” or “Sabbath” or “Sunday rest.” Call it whatever you will, but if you truly want to make big, positive changes in your stress levels, start it now. This week.
There are entire books and websites dedicated to the topic. I’d recommend you read about it further if that will help you embrace the concept more fully. But these are the basics:
*Some advocates advise gently easing oneself into this practice by setting aside just an hour or two to start. I don’t. You have to have a long enough period of time away from work/technology to see the benefits. Otherwise you will end up throwing your hands in the air saying, “See? I knew this wouldn’t work!”
How I started a rest day and the benefits I’ve experienced
I grew up in a religion where we observed Sabbath each week, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. I had a love/hate view of the practice: on the one hand it made the time special, set apart and offered a rhythm to the week. On the other hand, it was oppressive (hello, teenager who can’t go to a Friday night dance?) and often felt oppressive.
As an adult, I observe a modified version: I participate in a rest day each Sunday. I don’t work. I don’t go online (until evening). We try to do fun things together as a family: hikes in the woods, going to the beach or taking out the canoe or blowing bubbles and sitting in the sun on the deck. Anything to get us outside and breathing fresh air. I still cook, but make simple meals.
Maybe something about it meshes with my inner rebel. It feels good, so good, to say “later” to the to-do list, the “should list” and all the niggling, nagging things that need to be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis. Slow Your Home has a great post, Ignore the Shoulds. Do Something You Love which is inspiring.
I can’t honestly say that since I started this practice a couple of years ago, I’ve never worked or gone online on Sundays. But I find that the times I do, I am much less peaceful and content at the end of the day.
It’s kind of like when you were a kid and just couldn’t wait to bite into that giant chocolate Easter bunny. “It’s huge! It’s going to taste awesome.” And then you bit a little too aggressively on its little bunny ear and the whole head caved in. To add insult to injury, not only was the bunny hollow but it was just “chocolate flavored.”
“Oh, just a few minutes brainstorming this project,” feels so innocent. But halfway through the workweek I find that I’m no further along than if I stopped completely on Sunday and gave myself the gift of an entire day off. Isn’t that weird? It’s almost magical the way that the “wasted” time helps the rest of our week go more smoothly.
It shouldn’t be surprising though. We all need rest. We need time to nurture ourselves and let that creative well become deep once again.
Do you have a habit of unplugging once a week? If so, how did you get started? What challenges did you face? Please share a response in the comments.
I have a tendency to slip into very serious thought-land. As an INFJ, I guess it’s just part of my makeup, the same way that my eyes are hazel and I have yet to meet a sport that comes naturally to me.
And while I enjoy quiet time to think and recharge, sometimes the kid in me wants to shake things up and stop taking things so dang seriously. It’s why I add color to my hair, eat chocolate every day and refuse to give up my dream of traveling across the country with my family, no matter how far away it feels at times. I want to stop at all the weird attractions too, like the world’s largest ball of twine and the recycled road runner.
We all need more fun.
I recently downloaded a copy of Laurie Nataro’s book, It Looked Different on the Model, and chuckled through most of the chapters. I laughed so much in the waiting area at the dentist that I drew some odd looks. I was afraid to hold in the guffaws though, in case something came out of my nose unexpectedly.
It was a contagious read, too. More than once, I caught myself laughing about funny things throughout my day that otherwise would have bugged the crap out of me. That’s a positive, right?
It’s been a long while, too long, since I’ve read or listened to anything good and funny. Here’s a list of some of my favorites in case you also want to add a little more mirth into your day:
· Bill Bryson
· Laurie Nataro
· Car Talk
· Dave Barry
· Loretta Laroche
What have I missed? Share your favorite funny authors/entertainers in the comments.
One day we’re up, on top of the world. We hum under our breath while visualizing ourselves climbing the best seller list or dominating the next poetry anthology. We. Are. Writers.
The next day? Getting out of bed seems a chore, putting fingers to keyboard an insurmountable act. What does it matter what we write anyway we sigh, muttering under our breath. No one will ever see it. We. Are. NOT. Writers.
Are You An Anxious Writer?
The term “anxious writer” may bring up thoughts of scribes nervously nibbling on the end of pens or endlessly tugging locks of hair while trying to force the words to come.
Aren’t most of us anxious writers, though? I’ve yet to meet a writer who is so gob smacked by her own work that she never feels a moment of trepidation when it comes to showing it. Or an author who enjoys reading critical reviews of his work, gleefully re-reading the negative bits over and over. For fun.
Most writers feel anxious when they put their hand to the page. Why? Because writing is like peeling away the skin of your inner places, allowing the world to look inside.
“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” ~Virginia Woolf
Turning Anxiety into Creativity
Dennis Palumbo has written an insightful article about turning anxiety into creativity. He states that the feelings, negative feelings that so many of us want to avoid are often the raw material of our craft. It's easy to avoid those feelings though, isn't it?
A third glass of wine? A little retail therapy? What’s one more episode on Netflix in the grand scheme of things?
“No matter how mundane, the small anxieties can swarm like bees, making work difficult; distractions, like an impending visit from the in-laws, money worries, or that funny noise the Honda's been making," Palumbo says.
The trick seems to be expecting these anxious thoughts, recognizing them and moving past them.
“… as I've said countless times to the writer clients in my practice, struggling with these doubts and fears doesn't say anything about you as a writer,” Palumbo states. “Other than that you ARE a writer.”
What do you think? Do writing and anxiety go hand-in-hand? Or is the association a tired, overplayed assumption?
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