In January, I posted this update relating to my site and my thoughts on future writing plans. At the time, I chose a new title for my site. That was not to imply I wasn’t happy with the previous title, The Writing Studio. It didn’t seem to fit my online persona as well as it did the actual studio my husband designed and built for me.
Today’s post, I hope, will give you a look into how I chose the new title, Life in the Slow Lane. My explanation is long in coming but with this bit of change, my desire to write grows stronger each day. And so it is that I share the origin of the new name.
Living in the slow lane is a beautiful gift. A gift of time. Time for planning and dreaming and reflecting. Each of these processes brings a special gift. These gifts conjured up images of trips down long and winding country roads, thus the title “Life in the Slow Lane” was born.
One day, while struggling with chronic pain, I realized that I pushed myself in ways I could give up. Overload, perfectionism, and social media took precious time from my family and faith. Without either of these, I am lost as an individual.
Slowing down is hard for a perfectionist. The detail-oriented tend to bury themselves in overload. My thoughts gave me a sense of humility and raised questions. All this forced me to take a good look at what I want the next decades to look like. Asking yourself questions can be scary and humbling but it also guides and directs you.
One of my biggest writing battles is with myself. I love the craft and process of scripting words together to tell a story, my story. I have completed a manuscript of my memoir. But I’ve reached a point where I can’t make up my mind about publishing it. I know it’s well written although it needs some restructuring. It tells my story with truth, love, and faith. With very little work, it could be ready for submission in a few days/weeks.
I’ve wrangled with myself like a cowboy trying to rope a calf and brand it. Bob and I have had discussion after discussion about what I should or shouldn’t do. In all honesty, there are many points under my “shouldn’t” column. And if anyone ever needs someone to coach them into doing something, I’ll hire Bob out.
The biggest part of my problem? I’ve finished the fun part of writing this book–the writing and researching. I don’t want to deal with launching, marketing, selling, and putting myself in front of the book. It’s not that I’m not proud of what I’ve accomplished. I am. However, I did what I’ve always said I would do: Write the story of my difficult relationship with my mother. It seems others have always assumed I meant I’d publish it too.
During the last three years, my inability to focus on writing has taught me several things. First, I could have spent many more years sitting or lying in pain than I have. Diagnosed at age 12 with scoliosis, I was fortunate to not suffer from back pain until I was in my late 30s/early 40s. Luck was with me all those years.
During this time, I’ve enjoyed the love and companionship of a caring husband and one of the best nurses I know. He’s cared for me through more surgeries than either of us wants to count. Despite this, we have enjoyed the activities we enjoy both at home and in our community.
My thoughts next turned to once the recovery from this recent surgery is behind me. What do I really want to do with my life? Lots of things came to mind, but the best and most important are below:
Wake up every morning looking forward to spending each day with the love of my life, 24/7, no less.
Listen to classical music every day, whether via radio, CDs, or Bob practicing one of his many horns.
Love our home and care for it as I have always done, except when unable to because of pain.
Spread our love to our kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids despite the miles separating us.
Gardening! I haven’t been able to dig in the dirt and garden for so many summers now. I’ve watched Bob do it all and longed to be out there with him.
Volunteer my time as I am able, especially with the Mothers of Preschoolers program.
Ride in our red convertible come spring and summer down those long, lazy country back roads.
Write, write, write! Whatever I choose to write. Whatever I want to write. Simply because I want to write. Not because I’m looking to make a name for myself as a writer, or get rich as a writer, or whatever. I love words and writing them down. And I love telling stories.
And whatever I’m doing I want to do it all giving the credit and glory to God.
There you have it—the name behind this site is a short summation of my life from here until God calls me home. Nothing more, nothing less than who I am and believe I should be.
Lots of folks make resolutions each new year. Others set specific goals. I’ve never been successful with either. As I attempt to live in the slow lane, I’m putting aside such organized planning for my life.
Instead, I’ve chosen the word “contemplate” to guide me through my next year.
Slowing down has shown me areas in my life lacking attention. Examples include God’s teachings, prayer, reading, music, and more. When we center on a given activity, we hear more, see more, sense more, and learn more.
The word “more” in that last sentence excites me. Why? Because in this fast-paced, recognition driven, madcap social media world, I run to keep up. If I slow down and allow myself space to focus on the important things, I receive boundless gifts in the form of “more.”
All that translates to slow down, think, contemplate.
About the time I reached this conclusion, Mary Oliver left us for a better place. Yet, during Oliver’s life, she gave us many gifts in her poetry and other writings. I began to scour the Internet reading about her life and her poetry. While doing so, I came upon one of my favorites, thanks to a high school English teacher, The Summer Day.
It’s my belief God has slowed me down for a reason. Perhaps so He could shine a light on what I need to be doing more often and with greater intention. And He’s probably asking Himself, “What is taking so long?”
Well, there are a few things over which I have no control currently. I firmly believe in God’s understanding and patience much more than I do my own. So, I’ll push forward with this new lifestyle and way of thinking and writing to see where they take me.
Last week I posted the first post in this series on chronic illness and the writer. Today I want to share with you some tips I’ve found to be helpful. I’m not qualified to say these will work for everyone. I just know they have, on occasion, worked for me. You know your body better than anyone and your illness as well. Let no one tell you what will work best for you. Decide for yourself.
Tips for the not so good days.
Before I get started with the tips, I want you to know I am the worst at following my own advice. However, I am still learning at 72 what I need in my life to function and be happy. Yes, I have my low moments, maybe even days, but you have to pick up and keep on moving, so to speak.
Today I’m sharing the first five of ten tips for those not so great days. Next week we’ll look at the remaining five.
1. Establish a routine.
A routine for your days gives you something solid to return to after one or more not so good days. I once had a rheumatologist give me the following instructions to cope with fibromyalgia:
You need to establish a set time to wake up each morning, same time every day. The same should be done in the evening, a set time to go to sleep. The bedroom needs to be dark, no light at all. Also no TV or music in the background. Clear your mind. If you can visualize, think of a way to clear the things from your to do list that perhaps didn’t get finished today. Eat a healthy diet, get exercise no matter how bad you hurt, drink lots of water, and get plenty of rest.
I worked hard at his instructions after several days of pure anger at his thinking he could tell me what to do.At the end of several weeks, I began to feel better. And thanks to him, fibromyalgia isn’t a part of my chronic issues today. The only element in this advice I’m unable to commit to currently is getting the exercise.
If need be, write little and often. Don’t set yourself up for writing five or six hours straight and ending up fatigued. Because there are other tasks throughout the day which call us at the ready, we need able to withstand the energy they require too. Our illnesses and pain drain our energy level and we need to protect ourselves from draining our energy source.
One method of protecting against excessive loss of energy and the end result of fatigue is The Spoon Theory. The brainchild of Christine Miserandino, The Spoon Theory exists to provide a simple method of gauging your energy usage task by task. Read Christine’s post here and her explanation will be much better than any I could write for you. I understand and appreciate this theory but have not personally tried it.
2. Be flexible with your goals.
It’s easy to get caught up in the list mode when looking at your goals for the year, a month, a day, a week. It’s also easy to beat yourself up if you miss a goal. That only adds to your discomfort.
Sometimes it’s what we read or hear that pushes to meet our goals on a regular basis. As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard that “to be a writer, you must write every day.” My thinking here is the author of those words never suffered from a chronic illness and/or pain. Trust me–if he/she had, they wouldn’t have written those words. So, what are you to do?
Let’s say you set a goal to write 1,000 words each day. Some days you may meet that goal. But others you may only write 500. Then on a really good day you write 3,000 words. And on your worst days you write nothing. Do you see how this all may balance out in the end? This is where my next tip comes into play.
3. Be honest with those who need to know.
When I was still a working girl in the private sector of the Portland legal community, I pushed every day to get to work no matter how bad I felt or hurt. I continued to work long, overtime hours in spite of my physical condition. Honesty with others about my chronic conditions left me vulnerable and fearful they might judge me as lazy or goofing off. An incident a few weeks later taught me differently.
The memory of this particular day is still fresh in my mind. It was during my years of coping with fibromyalgia. I knew I really wasn’t able to cope with a full much less an overtime day and three attorneys. Each one of the attorneys expected me at his/her beck and call. The work was flowing across my counter in front of my desk like Niagara Falls.
One of my three attorneys had left me gifts of several tapes to transcribe and I had done a couple of them. I picked up another just as I was interrupted by a ringing phone. I put the tape in my transcription machine and voila, I hit the ERASE button. Didn’t even phase me. It hit the end and I rewound it and didn’t think about it at all until he asked about the finished product. That’s when I realized I had been walking a tightrope with no security net that day. I burst into tears and explained to my senior attorney what was going on. He called my husband to meet us at our home, and he drove me there and told me to take off the rest of the week. Understanding? Oh, yes. Fears warranted? Never. It was all in my head and my upbringing.
Be honest and upfront with those who need to know.
4. Find ways to adapt your workspace to your needs.
Most importantly, make certain your desk, computer, and chair are ergonomic to fit your physical needs. Search online for charts showing the distances necessary to make these three things just right. During the last two-plus years, I’ve spent many hours using my laptop while sitting in my recliner because it was the most comfortable place for my back and other injured areas.
I keep a pain-killing cream nearby (Aspercreme with lidocaine 4%). It really works quickly to erase the low-grade pain. Also, the freezer is stocked with ice packs for deeper and more intense pain. On the days, the pain is at its worst, I simply call it a day and do other things, like pick up a good book and read it all the way through. I listen to music and knit, or I succumb to adult coloring books. With my mother-in-law’s kitchen stool from the farm where my husband grew up, I can pretty well prep and cook meals. Little things are all it takes to make it easy to do what I need to do, or not.
5. Don’t compare yourself to healthy folks.
This is an area where I lose ground easily. Especially during the seasons I love, spring and summer. Right now, I’m envious of those out planting gardens and having the ability to be outside actively working in their yards. What I should be doing is thinking about all the things I can do that they can’t. Comparisons never work in your favor in the instance of healthy vs. unhealthy.
When you’re a writer, it’s doubly easy to succumb to the successes of your fellow authors. For example, when you’re on Twitter or Facebook, someone always has a cover reveal to share, or announces they’re signing with a new agent, or sharing they got a gargantuan publishing deal from one of the big houses! And you’re sitting there wishing you could just write 1,000 words a day. Remember this, if nothing else, we can’t all be Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or Alice Hoffman. So just be the best you can be.
Maybe you’ve come across some of the posts asking the question: Have you considered giving up your writing?
In recent days and weeks, I’ve come across several posts, both blog and on Facebook and Twitter, asking similar questions. My blog plans have included this topic for some time, but the increased interest moved this post up on my editorial calendar.
LET’S GET SERIOUS–Have YOU HAD THOUGHTS OF QUITTING?
Perhaps like this rusty relic, an Underwood typewriter from the past, you sometimes feel battered, worn out, at a loss as to how to move on, and you just want to throw up your hands and quit. I think lots of us have.
Last week K.M. Weiland posted a similar question on Facebook. I was stunned when I began typing a comment with the word “yes” front and center! To be honest, I have considered giving up my writing. In fact, as recently as the last few days of 2016. And many times throughout that long and arduous year.
I happen to have a live-in cheerleader, however, my husband, Bob. He won’t let me give up. He too is a creative and in some respects understands the “enemy” when it comes near. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am.
What can cause a writer to give up?
In my case, I felt a heavy cloud of depression and unending conflicts from health issues. I’m certain these were talking over any desire I had to write and finish my memoir. How do I know this? Because as soon as I finished my comment on K.M.’s Facebook post, I turned to thinking about the remaining revisions and edits to my manuscript and discussions I’d had with a publisher.
However, there are many reasons causing us to consider setting our writing aside. Perhaps you have contemplated this decision in the midst of everyday burdens, health issues, and more. Note that K.M.’s Facebook post received 101 comments. You can scroll through and read about some of the reasons given.
reasons writers stop writing
The variety of reasons a writer might be tempted to stop writing is broad and usually personal to the writer. Here are a few:
Day job and its stresses;
Health issues–injuries, surgeries, PTSD and more;
Having and/or adopting children into the family;
Writer’s block, stuck and can’t get started, hiding muse;
Critique and/or writing groups;
Will the truth I am writing hurt friends or family; should I write my story.
Publishing aspect of sending your book into the world;
Marketing aspect tiring and overwhelming;
Lack of encouragement from people in the writer’s life.
Any or all of these things can interfere with your creative life. The one thing to remember is none of these is your fault. However, you are the one who can take charge and make a difference.
Recently, I’ve begun to think of scoliosis as a metaphor for my life. I’ve struggled to please teachers, employers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, twisting myself into someone I can’t be. I hurt when I do this, because it’s not natural. And it never works. But when I stretch my Self, instead, the results are different. When I’m reaching for my personal goals—to be a good mother, wife, friend and writer—I feel my balance return. And the sense of relief, as I become more the woman I truly am, is simply grand. [emphasis added]
― Linda C. Wisniewski, Off Kilter: A Woman’s Journey to Peace with Scoliosis, Her Mother, and Her Polish Heritage
What to do when the urge to quiT hits?
Take a deep breath, take a walk, meditate, listen to some music you love, read a good book. And think about nothing related to writing for a few moments.
Then, give yourself as much time as you feel necessary to rid yourself of any negative feelings you’re experiencing. It is important to overcome the negativity before attempting to write.
When you feel like you’ve hit that point when writing is something you want to do, try it. Find a quiet place, clear your mind. Try free writing or journalling. Write anything: your thoughts, your feelings, or ideas for a project. It doesn’t have to be structured. Just write.
Perhaps afterwards, in time, you’ll sense a desire to return to that project or outline or revisions you’ve been avoiding. I use the word “avoid” carefully, because we aren’t necessarily avoiding our work. Our lives are avoiding the work, and we are held somewhat victim by our lives.
Remember that rusty Remington typewriter above? Like that typewriter, a little refurbishing and refreshing is all we need to get our writing underway again. From rusty, shabby, unhappy, wandering writers, we can become the writers with initiative, motivation, a desire to write. Like the Remington here, we’ll feel shiny and newly energized!
I’d love to hear from you
Please leave your comments below. It doesn’t matter if you agree, disagree, or feel I’ve missed the mark. Let’s come together for discussion because though many say they would never give up their writing, many of us do feel that emotion. “Talking” about it may help.
to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear
to pay attention; heed; obey.
to wait attentively for sound.
The word “attend” appears in each of the above definitions in some for or another. Perhaps the word implies the importance of learning because if we pay attention we generally pick up more instruction. Using the ear to give attention to someone or something implies giving our full attention.
WHY THEN would a writer choose the word “Listen?”
Perhaps to learn from others the grander points in the world of writing. Or perhaps the writer is hoping to pick up tips on things essential to publishing a book.
It seems it would be obvious that a writer may also be looking for ways to make his or her name known, and he or she listens for the names of those writers from whom to learn in the classroom, via podcast or video, or some other means.
PERHAPS THE WRITER LOOKS FOR DEEPER MOTIVATION
The hardest thing I try to do is listen to my own heart and mind. Those two places are where I believe everything I feel about my writing is stored. Storage places I can access in the quiet to listen to my personal dreams and desires about writing.
Do you find it hard to listen to your heart and mind as it relates to your writing life?
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT LISTENING TO YOUR HEART’S DREAMS?
Meditation comes close to what I believe is listening to our own thoughts and feelings, much like meditation can bring a person into communication with a higher power. Personally, I have always found it difficult to settle myself into a meditative state of mind. I was raised by a mother who believed we had to be busy 24/7. Settling into a meditative state takes great effort on my part.
The choice of the word “listen” forces me to practice a meditative state of mind in order to hear those things I hold dear about my writing life. If I don’t assume quietness, I will not hear the thoughts and dreams encouraging me to move forward in my writing practice.
In a few days, I will be sharing a post in which I pose a question to all of you about your own writing life. This is a question I have struggled with in 2016, and a question I have come close to answering this question in a way that may surprise you.
These are the kinds of questions I believe we need to spend some time reflecting on early each year to get our writing lives in order. This meditative state will not only help us focus on our dreams, but also on our writing.
Confessions are good for the soul so I confess now I am not a good juggler. Sometimes life presents us with a juggling act which seems outside our abilities. And often the start of a new year does the same.
The questions I asked as I wrote this post were:
Where did 2016 go?
What does 2017 hold in the way of goals?
What about now–the present, today, even tonight?
WHERE DID 2016 GO?
Wherever it went, it dragged by. I felt this year would never end. My days were ones of sitting and lying down to relieve relentless, intense pain. A short break in the early fall led me to believe the journey was almost over. Then a setback occurred.
I am still attempting to reach the end of the journey created by a fall last January. Things are so much better I am able to write a few hours a day on this blog and my book review blog. One good result from my immobility is a stack of books finally read.
Another accomplishment was accepting that some degree of pain will always be with me as a result of a fusion. I’ve also accepted that walking with a cane does get doors opened for you.
WHAT DOES 2017 HOLD IN THE WAY OF GOALS?
A top priority for me in 2017 is the hope of more therapy helping me to reach a higher level of activity. This would allow me to engage in daily activities without the need of pain medications. If I am told I need to take one pill a day, I can handle that. The narcotic haze is not something I enjoy nor do I want it interfering with my creative life.
Other than that, I have decided I am not establishing any set-in-concrete goals for 2017. My plan is to do something different this year. The concept came to me as I searched for a suitable graphic to include with this post. Not finding one, I set about creating my own which is inserted above. The word “now” was not easy to find in the company of the words “present” and “future.”
Days with therapy or doctor appointments and home exercises create a need for flexibility. Working those things around my writing life means there has to be a give and take. That leads us to the “now” option.
WHAT ABOUT NOW–THE PRESENT, TODAY, EVEN TONIGHT?
The word “now” is defined by Dictionary.com as “at the present time or moment.” In my opinion, “at the present time or moment” can mean today, this hour, or a variety of other phrases. It means I have the flexibility of moving something from today to another day. It doesn’t mean I can forget about anything forever. Things go better as long as I get something done and don’t leave it hanging ad ifinitum.
Last week I picked up something from Jamie Raintree, writer and blogger at JamieRaintree.com. I was reading a post by Jamie on time blocking and productive time. I’m not a rigidly organized soul, and my writing proves that when I confess I’m a pantser. This resulted from almost 40 years working for attorneys unwilling to track billable time. Their cry was “it doesn’t let me create the pleas and arguments I need to win!” If I’m worrying about when or how I’m going to get everything done on today’s schedule, I’ll never get it done.
Jamie has created a Time Blocking Worksheet. About her system, she says:
The idea is that you schedule your days in chunks, marking off large time periods for certain types of work, but leaving the details of what work you’ll accomplish more open.