Rabbit Holes and Notebooks Spark Joy

I’ve always loved notebooks. I knew I might need help when following Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her advice is to pile all similar objects in a room and then sort through the pile, keeping those items that spark joy. I didn’t follow the advice as intended. I simply gathered all of the notebooks I had scattered throughout my home and piled them into a basket. Confession: The basket wasn’t big enough ─ and it was quite a large basket. I determined that I likely had a lifetime supply of notebooks.

Worse, a month after this exercise, I attended a conference and proceeded to pick up another notebook. In my defense, the notebook was more of a journal with a hard cover and reference to the conference city. It was lovely, and I knew I would use it. In fact, I went back to see if I could claim a second one and they were all gone. Whew!

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Field Notes offers practical applications for using their products. (Photo from Field Notes website.)

My point is that I clearly need no more notebooks. And then I began a rabbit hole journey when I viewed an email for The Graduate Hotels, which was opening a new hotel in Cambridge, U.K. I noticed that the hotel offers a Field Notes edition to their guests, which I found charming. In fact, it may be the reason I book my next stay at one of their hotels.

These Field Notes are ruled and “perfect for lecture notes and assignments, or tailgate, playlist, or road trip planning,” according to the site. In its description, The Graduate Hotels writes, “Field Notes is inspired by the vanishing subgenre of memo books, ornate pocket ledgers, and the simple beauty of a well-crafted grocery list.”

The notebooks caught my eye, and I discovered I could order them online. And that is when the real trouble began.

As I searched online, I discovered the wide variety of notebooks, including National Parks and Three Missions, as well as Clandestine, a limited and cryptographic edition. As a mystery writer, I just had to have the Clandestine Field Notes pack, right? And I love visiting Yellowstone. You do see where this is going, don’t you?

It gets worse. They have a yearly subscription. Next year’s Field Notes have not been revealed, but it did not stop me from signing up for the subscription.

My basket overflows.

P.S. I suspect this post reads like an advertisement for Field Notes. I promise you I was not paid to write this post. If anything I lost money on this post, but I’ll have great notebooks all year!

Back To School Is the Perfect Time To Organize

20170307_084141Walking into an office supply store is always an expensive endeavor for me. I can’t help myself: the pens, colored notebooks, shiny folders. They all want me to take them home. And as they say, “Resistance is futile.”

August and September are especially challenging because of back-to-school sales. I can’t help but be tempted, especially when I can find items on sale or have a coupon.

This time of year is also the perfect time to organize for the coming year. It’s always been that way for me, and now that I work at a university, my need to organize in late summer is even stronger.

Here are a few suggestions to organize your work space of office:

Corral your pens and pencils. I have one container, and if they don’t all fit, I need to get rid of some. Obviously, toss the ones that don’t write. For those that work fine but you know you will never use consider donating to a senior center or after-school program.

Clean your desktop. Remove everything from the surface of your work space and wipe it down. Don’t forget to clean the keyboard, too. It’s an amazing feeling to then begin working with a clean desk.

I also make the time to clean off my computer desktop. I’m always amazed how files accumulate. For me, it’s often laziness. It’s easy to save a file to my desktop rather than thinking about where I should logically file it for archival purposes. Knowing I frequently save to my desktop, I force myself at least once a quarter to organize my files. Once I do, I find my productivity increases. And knowing that the files are saved to the cloud or a backup device lets me sleep at night.

Shred your files. When is the last time you pulled a piece of paper from a file? If it’s been months, maybe it’s time to purge some of your files. I’m working toward having zero files. If someone gives me a paper document that I will need, I ask for it electronically or I scan it and save it on my computer. At least once a quarter I work to eliminate one or two file folders. I’m down to one small file drawer.

Order the necessary supplies. Nothing is more frustrating than discovering you have run out of sticky notes or staples. I check my supplies and order what I need for the next six months. That way you don’t run out and you don’t waste time each month placing an order. And maybe you avoid going into the office supply store and buying another notebook! (But that’s a post for another day.)

Are You Up for Nothing?

One of my favorite things to do is nothing.

The problem is I don’t do enough of nothing.

I’m working, running errands, writing, playing on my mobile ─ you get the picture.

CaptureBut when I do nothing, I feel better. People who know me often don’t believe me when I tell the I am doing nothing. But it is the greatest gift you can give yourself because it gives you time to recharge, to ponder, to be.

I now have a better way to define what it is I am doing. The Dutch have a word for it, niksen. I learned about it in an article in The New York Times, The Case for Doing Nothing” by Olga Mecking.

She wrote, “The idea of niksen is to take conscious, considered time and energy to do activities like gazing out of a window or sitting motionless.”

One of the best ways for me to practice niksen is when I gaze out a window at birds at the feeder. I become mesmerized by the variety of species as I watch them flit to and fro. Before long, I am barely aware of the birds and am simply staring into space. It’s a wonderful feeling for as long as it lasts.

Even before I knew of niksen, I tried to follow the advice of Lillian Hellman, who said, “You do too much. Go and do nothing for a while. Nothing.”

Sage advice.

Are you up for nothing?

Overcoming Writer’s Block

Most writers at some point struggle with writer’s block. Overcoming the block can take many forms.

For screenwriter Ramona Taylor, writer’s block is a sign that she doesn’t have a strong enough story. For Mary Burton, writer’s block means she has a problem with her character.

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Don’t let cupcakes distract you from writing. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Fortunately for these writers and Greer McAllister, they have developed ways to overcome writer’s block, and they shared their tips at a James River Writers’ Writing Show.

Burton, a New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense author, said every book “hits a stage where the authors thinks she can’t write and is a fraud.” Burton’s approach is to not focus on the first draft, which she called her “sloppy copy.” The real story, she said, happens in the editing.

McAllister’s novel The Magician — a USA Today bestseller, Indie Next pick, and Target Book Club selection — has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain. She finds it helpful to write a synopsis first. “I discover what the heck is going on in my book,” she said.

Taylor, whose films have screened in festivals across the country, said she visualizes her screenplay and writes the bullet points. As she is writing, she places asterisks where she is stuck and needs to come back and rewrite. By leaving the writing for a bit, she said she will be inspired later and is able to clean up the bad spots.

All the authors stressed that research is not writing. “Research is fun,” Burton said, “But research is not writing!”

Added McAllister, “Research and writing can really be frenemies.”

When they are truly stuck, she said she will write the copy for the back cover, write social media posts or write to other authors. Her writing continues but not on the book.

Burton recommended creating something or exercising to reset the brain.

One author noted, “You can tell how the writing is going by the number of cupcakes on the counter!”

If all else fails, Burton recommended a “plot nap.”

Write Start 21-Day Challenge

Sometimes you need a push to get started.

Fortunately, I found the encouragement I needed with Javacia Harris Bowser, whom I met at an NFPW conference in Alabama. She recently led the “Write Start 21-Day Challenge,” which was designed to help participants uncover confidence, commitment and creativity to develop a daily writing habit.

I confess that there were a few days in which I did not get to the challenge on the day it happened. I would catch up the next day. And that’s okay because sometimes things don’t work as planned. The key is to keep moving forward.

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I generated plenty of ideas following Javacia’s writing prompts. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

Javacia encouraged us to create a morning ritual that would include writing. That didn’t work for me because I already have a morning routine that helps me set my intentions for the day. I elected to complete her challenges in the evening.

I had always thought that writing at the end of a full work day would not be possible. Instead, I discovered the time was ideal for me. I did more writing in the 21 days than I had in the previous three months. And I’m still writing! (This post was written in the evening.)

Writing requires a commitment and, if it’s important, Javacia said, “You have to make the time to do it.” In a blog post Why Writers Should Write Every Day she offers reasons to write every day.

She also stressed that being a professional writer means writing even when you don’t feel like it. I set daily and weekly writing goals. I also appreciated Javacia pointing out that we can’t wait for inspiration to hit us. She cited early American author Jack London, who said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

As a result of the Write Start 21-Day Challenge I

  • Developed a habit of writing daily.
  • Created a long list of potential topics.
  • Identified prompts to inspire me.

I know this was a lot of work on Javacia’s part. Thank you Javacia for the inspiration, the creativity and the confidence!

Preparing for Vacation

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With careful planning, you can enjoy a vacation. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I recently returned from an almost two-week vacation and was disconnected from work the entire time. How was that possible given the following news?

In a May 2018 report by CBS News roughly 56 percent of workers surveyed that year said they touch base with work when they’re supposed to be taking a vacation break — up from 41 percent of workers in 2016. The survey included more than 2,800 workers from 28 U.S. markets.

Equally telling is that American workers forfeited nearly 50 percent of their paid vacation in 2017. And, nearly 10 percent take no vacation days at all. According to a study by Glassdoor, the fear of falling behind is the number one reason people aren’t using their vacation time.

For me it was all about pre- and post-planning. My pre-planning included limiting meetings in the two days prior to my departure. I also compiled a list of major projects with their status. I shared this with my team and boss so everyone knew where critical pieces stood. Colleagues agreed to keep two of the projects moving.

I also asked my team to send me an email each Friday with a summation of the week. This included updates on my projects as well as their work. They also included some fun details, which made me feel more connected.

This summation enabled me to delete lots of emails because I already knew the requests had been handled.

Upon my return, I blocked my calendar for my first morning back to the office. This allowed me to focus on my projects that needed action. In the remaining hour, I scheduled follow-up meetings and responded to emails. I also held a team meeting for quick updates.

By day’s end, I was back in the thick of things — feeling good about work and still reveling in my vacation respite.

Summer Plans

Tomorrow is the first day of summer. Are you ready?

I fondly recall the lazy, unstructured days of summer as a child when we played outside until long past the streetlights came on. Usually, we were called in when the lightning bugs lit the night. Those unstructured days, though, were book ended by vacation and summer camps. A bit of structure made the other days that much more enjoyable.

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A book is best read poolside in the summer. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

As an adult, I tend to follow a similar pattern. It’s a good summer when I visit my pool frequently. Once poolside, I relax with a book and a stack of magazines. When the sun beats down and the gentle breeze stops, it’s time to plunge into the water. I repeat frequently.

But I also like having some goals for the summer so I don’t feel as if I’ve frittered the summer away. Here are a few of my goals —

Conquer my book pile. As a child I always participated in the summer reading program at my library. As an adult, I have my own program — finish the books I own and don’t check too many out from the library. My goal is to read five to 10 books each month. I seldom turn my TV on during the summer and with all my pool time, this is a doable goal.

Explore. I’m planning to attend an exhibition on Pompeii at the science museum. At the art museum, I will learn about a Tibetan Buddhist’s journey toward enlightenment. I also have a list of new restaurants to check out.

Learn. I’m taking two online classes. One is about podcasting and the other is on workplace communication. I may also spring for a cooking class or two.

Do you have summer goals? If so, would you share them in the comments section?