Thoughts, update

Change your Thinking

These posts are often a challenge to come up with ideas for (*slaps wrist – for which to come up with ideas), but it turns out that training a puppy can offer some important life lessons that translate to the rest of our lives.

So, from my torn-up, bleeding hands and exhausted mind to you, here are some tips on dealing with difficult situations:

  1. Find things to laugh at. When you’ve got a 10lbs dog’s needle teeth sinking into your ankle, and the only way to reach a safe place to put a barrier between you is to drag your leg behind you, you have two options: yell, curse, kick — which achieves nothing, or laugh at the fact that you look ridiculous to anyone lucky enough to see you. The laughter removes the tension and slows the tears, making it easier to deal with the stress once you reach your safe place.
  2. Forget the word “no.” I don’t mean don’t create boundaries and instill discipline, because those are kind of essential for everyone’s safety and sanity and development, but the word “no” is quite unhelpful. It doesn’t provide any information. Correction with guidance is more likely to earn cooperation and avoid discouragement.
  3. Go for walks. A puppy waking up for a long nap is a nice excuse, but why wait for one? Grab your shoes and go out for a 5-minuter to wake up the brain and get those synapses firing.
  4. Find the fun. You COULD get stressed about the fact that you’re behind on all your work and you’re waking up at unreasonable hours, or you find the joy of the small victories, the quiet moments, the glimpses of pure happiness that come up even in the most stressful, frustrating times.

These are the lessons we’re working on for the next little while (hopefully with more of that small victories, quiet moments, and pure happinesses as the weeks go on), and hopefully there are some little tidbits of wisdom in here to help you through the rough patches, too!

Thoughts

Let Loose the Imagination

I hate horror.

With a passion.

The last real horror film I watched was The Ring back in 2000.

I hate the feeling of adrenaline taking over. Not knowing what to expect, bracing yourself for the worst.

It’s not even the “in the moment” pain I suffer, it’s what comes later. After I’m in bed and the lights are out. Or worse, when I’m in the shower and the curtain is closed. You never know what’s waiting on the other side (little girl ghosts. ALWAYS little girl ghosts).

It’s worse when there’s nothing else to distract me.

When there’s nothing to stop my imagination from taking over.

I know people fall on either side of this argument in horror: whether it’s better to let the imagination lead the viewer/player/reader through the story or whether it’s better to reveal the Big Scary.

The closest horror experience I’ve had in recent years has been being in the room while my husband played Layers of Fear. If you haven’t played it, it’s quite a fun game if you like that sort of thing. Around and around the house you go, and each time to finish a circuit… things get weirder.

I watched most of it through my fingers, and there was at least one nightmare-ridden night because of it.

But for the most part, the Big Scary was never revealed. Just hinted at. Glimpsed in the corner of your eye. Shadows where there shouldn’t be any. Objects moving, being knocked over. A wicker wheelchair.

So creepy. So well done.

But I guess the developers felt the weight of critique, because we just started Layers of Fear 2 (which we’re streaming live on Twitch every weekend if you want to watch me scream and be reduced to tears), and I keep being pulled out of the game. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will limit this particular example to simply saying: the imagination is given less to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I still watched it between my fingers, but there were times where the fear wasn’t there (thank goodness, really), and I really don’t think that’s what they were going for.

The imagination, the brain, is pretty cool like that. It finds patterns out of nothing. That’s a big part of what it’s wired to do, which means as soon as that adrenaline is going, it will seek out the threat, so nothing could be there, and there will still be a few jumps and shrieks every time you open a door or hear a thump in the distance.

Why bother to make that threat real when just the suggestion of one is enough to get the heart rate going?

The imagination is a powerful force. If you’re looking to evoke emotion in whatever project you’re working on, it serves well to remember it, use it manipulate it.

The advice “show don’t tell,” in my opinion, can be used given just as accurately here as in any other part of creation, and the audience will be more satisfied for it.

So where do you lie on the argument? Should they have shown the demigorgon in Stranger Things? Would Paranormal Activity be more terrifying if they gave away the Scary?

Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts, writing

Working Through Distract-huh?

Working under the dream conditions is, well, the dream.

The perfect view, the perfect volume level, the perfect temperature. No one walking into the room. The kids quiet. The pets asleep.

Ahh…

But how often does that happen?

And, honestly, how easy is it to work when you finally get there? Are you able to actually focus, or do you tend to find reasons to put off starting. Picking the right music, adjusting the height of your chair. Making sure the cat’s still breathing.

Distractions are everywhere — so how do you work through them?

I write my blog posts on Mondays while my husband sits beside me and plays video games or watches youTube videos. Despite the noise, despite his cursing and swearing after he gets his ass handed to him for the 30th time in a row playing Sekiro, I do my best to write some at least semi-coherent blog posts that have something useful to offer.

Some days, it’s not easy. The focus isn’t there, and watching him work not to throw his controller across the room is far more entertaining that figuring out what words to put on the page.

But I get there.

Usually.

My personal trick? Honestly? Persevering. Buckling down, tuning out as much as I can, and taking things one sentence at a time.

So, really, the same trick I use to get my work done on the best day.

Not to say it’s always like that. In coffee shops or out in public, I’m a headphones in, music loud kind of girl. Drown out all the ambient noise and pick my own poison.

At home, in the “best conditions,” I voluntarily distract myself with Spider Solitaire every 500-1000 words, slowly stretching out the break times, which makes it easier to focus in between.

The distractions never go away, so if we let them stop us, we’d never get anything done.

What are you methods of drowning out the world to tackle your projects? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts

Planning for Everything (Hint: You Can’t)

It doesn’t matter what you’re working on, you’re going to run into snags.

It might even feel, more often than you’d like, that you hit one snag after another.

That there are more snags than forward momentum.

You might start to feel beaten down by the snags. Exhausted. Drained.

You might even want to just throw in the towel. Walk away. Sell the house that came with more problems than you expected and go back to living with your parents because at least then if there’s a leak, they can handle it.

Okay, maybe I’m touching on a bit of a personal issue, but it did get me thinking about other things and the importance of looking at the momentum between the snags. What purpose the snags might serve or teach you.

They’re going to happen anyway, so I guess you might as well get something out of it.

In our case, it’s the house repairs. Back in December (FIVE MONTHS AGO), we discovered a leak in our basement. Since then, it’s been issue after issue with mice and drafts and construction, and now, three days after the wall was patched up and two days before the new carpet was due to be installed…. more water.

So we’re feeling a bit down, a bit of all those things mentioned above, but it happened. Raging at the world is not going to make it NOT have happened. So instead I’m doing my best (it’s not easy) to focus on the positive: at least we discovered the water before the carpet was installed. This new leak evidence has also helped us narrow down where the source of the water is likely coming from, which is different from where were thought it was before.

It’s still frustrating and exhausting, but at least turning it into a learning experience makes it productive. Something we can actively seek to interact with instead of passively cursing everything that brought us to this point.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before: there is no good experience or bad experience — there is only an experience.

You can’t plan for everything that’s going to come up in the course of a project.

Conflicts with associates, corrupted/lost files (the horror!), personal issues that effect the quality of the someone’s work/deadlines…

There is no way to know in advance that your schedule is going to be uprooted — and if you’re lucky, it often won’t be — but if it does, there are really only two options: let the snag stop you, or learn from it readjust, and keep plodding along until the next one.

The former might be the easiest, but it’s unfilling, unsatisfying, and, really, you should probably get the job done, which leaves the latter.

Which is not easy to achieve.

My solution? Talking it out with people: first venting and then working through the issue rationally; self-care in the form of walks or meditation to clear the head and let the emotions settle so pragmatism and logic can kick in; chocolate.

In the end, we get there, it’s all about the journey as you go.

Because, really, the thought of living with my parents again (much as I love them) is one of the greatest motivators to keep my butt moving.

What are your go-to tricks to help you gain perspective on a snag? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts

#IndieApril

We’re coming to a close on another month, and it has been a real indie author storm over on Twitter this month, with the hashtag #indieapril.

From what I can tell, it began with an indie author looking to show support for her fellows while raising awareness for the indie publishing movement that continues to make so many changes to the industry.

I love the idea, and have both promoted and requested titles from other authors over the past couple of weeks. The result: close to a dozen new books on my ereader that sound vastly entertaining.

The stigma against indie, or self, publishing, has significantly decreased over the last couple of years. When I made my first foray into the business in November 2013, a few people had already made it big and the nose-turning-upping had toned down quite a bit, but there were still the questions and condescending “ah, yes,” when I told people I had produced my own books.

These days, you can find a course for every step of the process, there are countless numbers of how-to books on the various ad platforms, cover design, editing, marketing and promotion… everything available to make the quality of your book the best it can be — ideally without breaking the bank.

I’ve been in the business almost 6 years now, have learned a lot and am still learning.

I take pride knowing that I’ve put my best effort into any given project, and that everything is under my control.

As I’ve previously mentioned, even organizations like our municipal and provincial grant programs have started recognizing indie authors — this as recently as within the last year!

I love that now, when I go out to events, if I tell people I do it all myself, I rarely get the patronizing nod, but often amazement or, my favourite, “oh hey! You’re self-publish” from someone not in the business.

It means word is getting out there that quality doesn’t depend on your publishing imprint.

It means that going indie is becoming recognized as a viable option for people who want to take the time and money to do it.

So happy #IndieApril, my fellow self-pubbers. May the playing field continue to grow even, the resources and opportunities continue to grow, and our imaginations continue to venture out into the world.

Thoughts

Wrap up on “Flow”

Of all the types of books I read at various times, the pop psychology/non-fiction/motivational/psychological texts always take me the longest.

Intentionally.

There’s a lot to take in, think about, absorb, and I like to give it ample time to soak into the brain matter.

So this week I’m wrapping up Mihaly Csikzsentmihalyi’s Flow, the book that, essentially, attempts to home in on the meaning of life. The root of all true happiness.

An impressive claim?

Perhaps, but I really can’t argue with him.

Before I get into my thoughts on the book, I’ll get right to the recommendation. If you enjoy the sort of book that gets you inside your own head and helps you see the world/your actions differently, you’ll enjoy it. It’s dense at times, but interesting, and as it’s referred to in so many more recent books (this one came out in the 90s and is the definitive work on the subject), it’s a great starting point to give context.

My previous post about the book breaks down his definition of “flow,” and the various criteria required to enter into this optimal experience.

For the rest of the book, he goes more into depth with the various criteria and how they come into practice with examples, like the man who’s worked the same welding job at a company for thirty years, but still loves going into his job because he finds new ways to challenge himself and then goes home to invest new little devices and features for his rock garden as a hobby.

He discusses the fact that research shows people enter the flow state significantly more often at work than their do in their leisure hours, but society focuses so much on the value of working solely so you can enjoy your leisure time that, although less happy people want more of it.

The exception to the rule? People to whom leisure is an active hobby. Something that engages the mind in a way that matches the criteria previously mentioned.

Physical — running to beat your time or master a new form, taking up a new sport, getting into shape; cognitive — learning a new language, taking a course; creative — building/invention something, making art; or social — people? what? — activities can all get you into the flow state.

Passive activities like mindlessly watching television, travelling just to look, enjoying other people’s work without adding any of your own … don’t.

Where people are most affluent, it can actually take more effort to get into the flow state unless is an effort is made to get involved in your surroundings, to keep growing as a person.

He discusses how, without that effort, can people even forget how to set their mind to active thinking. Leading to say, less critical thought while watching the news, taking the opinions of media mavens and your neighbours without taking the time to reason things out yourself (things to consider as we enter the 2019 election prep in both Canada and the States).

The best way to develop the flow mindset, this state of perfect happiness that both grows the self while separating the ego from the self, is to practice it.

So the next time you have a day off and you’re wondering how to fill your time, call up a friend, crack open a model set or a jigsaw puzzle, download a language app, go out and work in the garden.

Life your best life — it starts in your own head.

Thoughts

Finding Your People

I chatted a few posts ago about using social media to network, and how it can be a great way to find like-minded people.

Social media, the use of hashtags and groups, can certainly introduce you to people you never would have met otherwise, and those introductions can lead to endless amounts of support and opportunities that can change your experience in your chosen artistic arena.

But I’ve noticed a returned trend in some of feed that really disheartens me: the obsession with numbers.

The number of followers you have doesn’t matter.

The ratio of followers : following you have doesn’t matter.

Do you derive pleasure from having your chosen people in your feed? Good! Keep them! Your feed is yours to curate. It’s how I’ve managed to keep my temper and my mood level despite all the nonsense in the news.

I’ve seen people try to play guilt games with people who unfollow them, and personally I feel this is silly. If their feed/interactions with you don’t bring you joy, you are under no obligation to continue the connection.

That is the joy of the internet. Set your own boundaries, decide the tone/mood/quality to want your timelines and feeds to hit, and be merciless in maintaining it.

Last year, I wiped out my Facebook profile. I had to keep it to host my author page, but my profile is down to 0 friends. I regularly clear out my Twitter follows, and will soon be doing the same with my Instagram.

Think of it as spring cleaning. The joy of logging on to your various accounts with the dread of what dumpster fire you’re going to walk in on.

This is how you find your people. The ones who matter to you; the ones who can educate you or learn from you; the ones who become a bright spot in your day when your job/hobby/passion (pajobby? COINED IT.) is driving you up the wall.

So if your feed is starting to bring you down, it’s time to Marie Kondo that following list and make your world a personalized, happier place.

Thoughts

EXTREME BUSINESSING

Most of the posts I write will be about looking before you leap, especially if you’re looking at taking your business/hobby/passion to the next level.

In order to know where you’re going, to first need to be looking in that direction.

In order to make adjustments for sudden changes, you need to know what all your variables are.

All of these things are true, and making plannings and preparing specifics will always have their place.

But sometimes, you just need to jump out of that airplane.

Have a parachute with you, sure. Extra savings, a strong support system, someone on the ground with a giant mattress. These are all good things.

But take the risk.

The result could end up being a smelly heap of garbage (hopefully with no actual broken bones), but it will always be worth it. As a wise man frequently reminds me: there is no such thing as a good or bad experience—there is only experience.

It’s possible the risk you take will send you flying straight to your goal, or into the notice of people who can propel you where you want to next. You can make new friends, have a few laughs, rake in the cash.

Or everything could crash and burn, but you learn some incredibly important lessons along the way.

To fail, to miss your goal, is necessary in business as in life. Success feels really great, but it doesn’t teach you nearly as much as making mistakes (as long as you’re willing to pay attention to what the mistake actually was), and the best way to make mistakes is to take the risk.

Is there a course you’ve been on the fence about taking because it’s a bit on the pricey side (within reason; please don’t bankrupt yourself)? Have you been hesitating about showing your latest work in process to anyone because you don’t feel it’s ready yet? Do you know someone who could possibly help you move to your next goal, but you’re too nervous to make the first move in speaking with them?

Do it.

Embrace the pounding heart, the clammy palms, the uncertainty.

You’ll never know what gold you’re going to find on the other side unless you do.

Thoughts, update

The Art of the Direct Sale

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of sharing a table at the Ottawa Geek Market at the Nepean Sportsplex, and my experience once again reminded me how much I love direct sales.

I really do.

On a normal day, I have my people quota. It’s quite low. I prefer socializing in groups of 3 or 4, max around 6, and depending on the group, I have a limit of a couple of hours. Then I get tired, conversation gets difficult, and I just want to go home to a cup of tea and a book.

But you get me behind a table covered in my books and ask me to be “on” for an 8-hour stretch?

I am there.

And I’m good at it.

Want to know my secret?

I genuinely, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, enjoy it.

As an indie author, there’s a huge push for online sales.

This makes sense! People around the world have access to our books. I have readers on pretty much every continent, and much as I would love to get to all of those places and meet them in person, it’s not feasible at the moment, which means I need to learn how to connect with them via the wonderful world wide web.

This part…I’m not so good at and continue to study so I can improve.

In person, however, there’s nothing I find easier.

I love the personal element to it, the chance to chat about books in general and find out what someone else is reading/enjoys reading/doing in ones spare time.

When I work the market in the summer, I love finding out where everyone is from, whether they work downtown and are out on their lunch break, or in from another city/country. I like to hear about what they’ve seen in Ottawa, where they’re heading next, and what their favourite part of their trip has been.

My goal when a reader comes to the table isn’t a sale. Sales are nice, of course. Sales help fund the next event, the next book, the next internet bill, but they’re not the be-all and end-all.

My primary aim is the connection. Getting my card in someone’s hand and hopefully continuing the conversation either over social media or (even better) at my next event! Having return people show up when I least expect them is always such a nice surprise, and each time I feel like I get to know them a little more.

So if you have trouble with the idea of direct sales, that they’re too intimidating or nerve-wracking, try changing your perspective on it! You’re not in it for the sales, you’re in it for the chats (and the people-watching in between).

Want some practice? Next time you go grocery shopping, ask the cashier how their day is going so far–and mean it!

Thoughts, Uncategorized, Wordy Babble, writing

“Flow” with it

My progress through Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow* is coming along. It’s not really the kind of book I rush through. More the type I take in bite-sized pieces so I can ponder what he’s saying.

And so far, I’m hooked.

I just finished the third point out of seven of what creates that “optimal experience,” this sense of being so wrapped up in what you’re working on that you lose all sense of self, of time, of your past or future.

The first point is the idea that the challenge must require a degree of skill. There is a window that lies between frustration and boredom, determined by the degree of skill. If the challenge sits too far above your skill level, you get frustrated, if it’s too far below you’re bored.

Sounds about right, really. I’ve experienced both those states at various jobs, as I’m sure many of us have. It’s not fun. That’s how you wind up spending your day scrolling on your phone and either lose said job or run through all your monthly data.

The sweet spot is right in the middle, where there’s enough you don’t know to keep you learning, keep you questioning, but enough you do know that you’re capable of completing the task.

He points out that the process of completing the task isn’t always sunshine and roses, but that after you rise from the zone, there’s a rich sense of achievement and a desire to tackle it again.

The second point he discusses is the merging of action and awareness. The idea that become so immersed in what you’re doing, so mentally involved, that you almost…lose the sense that you’re the one doing it.

Each movement, each thought, each step, becomes natural, instinctual. There is no room for self-doubt or second guessing.

He notes that it’s only when you rise out of the zone that your sense of self returns with a stronger, fresher zeal. As though in order to learn what makes you you, you first half to forget yourself.

The third point is that you must have clear goals and feedback. The goal part I’ve always known, but the feedback took me by surprise for how obvious it was.

What I found interesting–or I should say, what resonated with me–is the fact that said feedback comes in very different ways depending on what you’re doing. If your goals are something tangible, than your feedback comes from someone’s reactions or the completion of a task. In the cast of writing, however, that feedback isn’t always obvious with every writing session.

I don’t have someone sitting behind me providing notes with each first draft chapter (frankly, the idea is both tempting and horrifying), but I do have my own emotional reactions to each day’s output as well as my word count goals. These forms of feedback are enough to keep me satisfied at the end of a day’s work.

The fourth point for this post, and final for today is the concentration for the task at hand. Similar to the second point, is the idea that nothing else is going through your head except for what you’re working on.

Stressed about money? About what to make for dinner? When you are in this zone, in the “flow,” money and dinner don’t exist. For as long as this perfect storm lasts, there is only the challenge in front of you.

I find this all fascinating. I love how the mind works. I love how it’s primed to allow us to find our own fulfillment and satisfaction and happiness just based on a few tweaks of mindset and circumstance.

I have certainly experienced these things through my writing, but he points out that you can achieve this flow state no matter what you’re doing. As long as there’s a balance of stimulation and interest, any task can provide this optimal experience.

What about you? Does any of this sound familiar to you? Any tasks you take on that trigger this loss/discovery of self?


*if you missed it, you can find my first post about this book here.