Is it a dreadful mistake to take a break from writing?

I took a break from my main fiction project recently. Having finished the umpteenth round of editing on my second novel, I decided a few weeks separation was needed before I re-read it with fresher eyes and decided which aspects needed to be re-tackled.

While I let my novel lie fallow, I reflected on the place of “not writing” on that body of work. Although I took a break from creative writing, I think this experience could apply to taking a break from other creative pursuits.

Downtime high def

 

At first, it was strange. I constantly felt guilty that I wasn’t writing or editing my novel, and had to remind myself this was a deliberate choice. Of course, ideas usually come to mind after intense editing, and when they did, I just noted them down for action later. Oddly much of this time I was idea-dry, but there were a few valuable bursts of inspiration initially and more insights as time passed.

I did still do some writing but nowhere near as much as usual and certainly not every day; sometimes days went by without writing. I wrote stream-of-consciousness “pages” on a fairly regular basis, I snuck in some editing on some of my short stories and I wrote regularly for my medical jobs. I even contemplated making a start on my next novel, for which ideas are brewing. I chose not to because, while I also hold down three jobs, I find it difficult to swap between working on different novels. I like being in the flow for one novel at a time. I tend to want to give my project as much of my attention as I can (around my other commitments). I can pause for non-fiction writing or sometimes a short story, but to start another novel didn’t feel right. For the same reason, I chose not to look again at my first novel.

Once I got used to the pattern, I enjoyed having more time to do other things. More time for catching up with friends and family, exercise, reading, gardening and knocking off some of those chores that sit perennially on one of my lists but must be done at some stage – great to be without the added pressure of those jobs achieved. I went on a holiday with my family and for once wasn’t wondering if I could juggle my time to squeeze in some work on my writing.

© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

Exploring near Bermagui, NSW – October 2015

The real challenge to my “taking a break” philosophy came as I restarted editing, while also catching up at work on my return from leave. Unexpectedly I had to devote more time to family and my writing break turned out to be longer than I had planned.

The reflection I had done during my time-out meant I was already at peace with myself on not writing when the occasion arises. Quietly accepting, without guilt or frustration, that it would be a little longer freed me to do what I needed to with a clear conscience.

In the meantime, my head feels clearer, my ideas-and-to-fix list has grown considerably longer and I am excited about the next round of rewriting and editing. (You will see from my previous post why I am excited about being excited!)

Many opinion pieces extol that we writers must keep writing every day, no matter what is going on around us. Maybe that is the right choice for some, but it isn’t the case for everyone. I have read a few posts that acknowledge the importance of a break and to those authors, I thank you.

Life has ebbs and flows. Some prudently placed downtime can be well worth the investment.

What has been your experience of taking a break from writing?

Any advice to those considering a writing break?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.

Thanks for reading this post! Some of my other posts include:

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

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© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

The power of naming procrastination

Have you ever procrastinated for a significant period and then, when you’ve finally done the thing you procrastinated over, wished you’d done so much sooner?

We’ve all been there at some stage, some more than others.

You know that task I mean – that one that had you cleaning your house AND doing your tax paperwork, anything simply to avoid that which you need to do. (On the upside at least your house is sparkling and your tax paperwork sorted.) [Feel free to substitute any tasks you hate into this scenario if you are one of those people who like housework and tax paperwork.]

It might be over little things or it may be that it crops up more for major changes or tasks.

Whether it’s taking the plunge and starting that project, upgrading that PC, laptop or other device, calling in that plumber, culling the gear in that drawer or cupboard where you can longer find anything, contacting that friend with whom you’ve been out of contact for far too long or changing your hairstyle, diet, job or even ending a relationship … knowing we should have done it sooner can be frustrating.

Why do we do it?

Is it that we:

  • Are unsure where to start?
  • Make a start but give up too soon?
  • Don’t break the task into manageable chunks?
  • Go in the wrong direction or pursue dead ends?
  • Overcomplicate what needs to be done?
  • Are scared of finishing?

It could be any of these things or a combination, and it may be different things for different tasks, but sometimes procrastination does serve a purpose.

There are valid reasons we may delay, such as:

  • We may need to be sure
  • We might need to prepare ourselves
  • The timing may need to be right
  • We perceive that staying as is easier (at least for the time being).
  • Or sometimes it is avoidance. We may actively resist the things we most need to do, and at the heart of avoidance, fear often resides, although guilt and/or anger can have a bearing as well.

Sometimes we do need a little time to be sure we are making the right choice or working out the best way to tackle something, but all too often we expend unnecessary energy or waste valuable time. It might be occasional but it can become a habit, and it can have huge impacts.

Jacquie's Crabapple blossom

Crabapple blossom © 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith

How can we gain power over procrastination?

Name it.

  • What do you need to do?
  • Why do you need to do it?
  • What is stopping you? If you are stuck for ideas, hunt for any aspects about which you feel worried or fearful, guilty or even angry.
  • What is the impact of not doing it?
  • What would be most helpful for you to do now? This may be a conscious commitment, taking a first step, developing a plan or even consciously deciding the time is not now.

Although I am most interested in “creative procrastination”, the things I have been known to procrastinate about are wide-ranging and so I have kept this post broader. This is what works for me but I am sure there are many approaches.

What is your experience of why you procrastinate?

What do you find most helpful?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.

Thanks for reading this post! Some of my other related posts include When push comes to shove – juggling priorities in a time-poor world and Is excitement a new strategy for writers?

Or you may also be interested in What are the synergies between mindfulness and creativity? and Where health and creativity intersect.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

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© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

What are the synergies between mindfulness and creativity?

Mindfulness is a popular topic at the moment. Research demonstrates positive effects on mental health, such as this meta-analysis by Hofmann et al., 2010, and supports benefits for physical health parameters, including cardiovascular health in this study by Loucks et al., 2014.

I have posted before about the intersection between health and creativity.

So what about mindfulness and creativity?

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Firstly, what is mindfulness?

Hofmann et al., 2010 describe mindfulness as

“a process that leads to a mental state characterized by nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment experience, including one’s sensations, thoughts, bodily states, consciousness, and the environment, while encouraging openness, curiosity, and acceptance (Bishop et al., 2004Kabat-Zinn, 2003;Melbourne Academic Mindfulness Interest Group, 2006). Bishop and colleagues (2004) distinguished two components of mindfulness, one that involves self-regulation of attention and one that involves an orientation toward the present moment characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.”

Simply put, being mindful is allowing yourself to be aware of and non-judgmentally experience the moment.

What does the research tell us about mindfulness and creativity?

Studies and articles have mostly focused on how mindfulness meditation can benefit creativity and/or creative thinking in the broader sense.

If you wish to explore the psychology, theories include that mindfulness may enhance creativity by reducing cognitive rigidity (Greenberg, Reiner, and Meiran, 2012) and facilitating divergent thinking/reducing convergent thinking (Capurso, Fabbro and Crescentini, 2013).

George Hofmann writes in his post on How Mindfulness Can Help Your Creativity:

“Researchers at the Institute for Psychological Research and Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition of Leiden University in the Netherlands found a tremendous impact of focused-attention (mindfulness) and open-monitoring meditation (observing without judging) on creativity

“First, Open-Minded meditation induces a control state that promotes divergent thinking, a style of thinking that allows many new ideas of being generated. Second, Focused Attention meditation does not sustain convergent thinking, the process of generating one possible solution to a particular problem.” Meditation may equal more ideas.”

Or for a good post on how mindfulness can boost creativity, this post from the Mindfulness Workbook For Dummies may inspire you. I especially agree with the tip about not having to meditate to be mindful. (I confess I am not very good at just sitting and meditating.)

I can easily understand how quietening your thoughts can reduce distraction and open your mind to creative possibilities.

But can creative pursuits help you achieve a state of mindfulness?

I couldn’t find any research on whether being creative can help you be mindful. (If you know of any, please point me in the right direction by posting a comment!)

So this is unapologetically not scientific, but my personal experience is that I need to be creative to be mindful.

By expressing my creativity I can access a deeper level of mindfulness. In fact when I manage to silence my internal critic and create in the moment, I achieve a state of mindfulness purer than that I have managed with mindfulness meditation and more satisfying creative work to boot.

Creativity and mindfulness are synergistic, not a linear relationship with one facilitating the other.

This description of mindfulness in drawing from The Centre for Mindfulness Studies comes close to how I feel when I write in the moment.

I don’t just need to be mindful to boost creativity; at least some of us need to be creative to enhance our mindfulness.

What is your experience of mindfulness and creativity?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.

Thanks for reading this post! Some of my other related posts include Where health and creativity intersect and The healing power of creativity.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

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© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

When Mother’s Day Hurts

As it’s Mother’s Day in Australia today, I am sharing Marie Ennis-O’Connor’s deeply touching “When Mother’s Day Hurts”, which she posted on Ireland’s Mother’s Day this year and has kindly agreed to me reblogging today. (2016 addendum: Here’s the link to Marie’s equally moving 2016 When Mother’s Day Hurts post – unfortunately Marie’s 2015 Mother’s Day post appears to have been taken down, but I have left my response up as I think it still has value. Another relevant post from Marie is Missing my mother on her birthday)

Marie’s reflections are a poignant reminder that Mother’s Day can be a painful time for many for all kinds of reasons. Some of us will feel conflicted, celebrating one or more aspects while grieving on another.

Marie’s post also reminds me of the power of sharing stories.

Today as I pay loving tribute to the mothers in my life, I also honour my mother-in-law, who died last year, and my grandmothers, who died in 1994 and 2001. And while I celebrate the absolute good fortune of being a mother to a wonderful 14 year-old son, I well remember the difficult and painful years of subfertility and pregnancy losses.

If Mother’s Day acts as a painful reminder for you, my thoughts are also with you today.

The different kind of excitement building for Change Day Australia 2015

There is a different kind of excitement about Change Day Australia in the count-down to 11 March 2015 than in the lead-up to the 2014 event.

Last year I felt a nervous anticipation – 2014 was the inaugural Change Day in Australia to which a smallish band of passionate people, including me, had dedicated a lot of time and effort. We have a pretty good health system in Australia in lots of ways but it absolutely can be better. Would people come on board? Change Day is all about doing something better together – the FAQ is a good overview if you crave more information.

Over 15 000 wonderful pledges were lodged in 2014 in which people committed to things they could do to improve health ranging from

  • individuals committing to something that will either improve the health of others such as standing up to discriminatory behaviour, volunteering, being a role model or packing healthy lunches for their kids or for their own health, be it regular exercise, healthy diet or reframing their thinking;
  • health professionals pledging to listen, to smile, to introduce themselves, to provide training or to put the person at the centre of their care;
  • departments using it as opportunity to identify a focus or think outside the box and plan something they could achieve together;
  • big ticket items such as the Western Australian Director of Public Health pledging to develop a memorandum of understanding with the WA Health Consumers’ Council.

For Change Day 2014, I pledged to do my best to raise awareness of, and encourage participation of people in Western Australia in Change Day, and am thrilled that WA did achieve roughly 3500 pledges, approximately a quarter of the total in 2014. Many more people within WA have now heard of Change Day and lots of taken up promoting the 2015 campaign themselves with enthusiasm we could only have dreamed of last year.

2015 is shaping up to be even better, approaching 20 000 pledges from across Australia before the big day. Again the breadth of pledges is amazing. Check out the 2015 Pledge Gallery.

The effort for 2015 has been more about embedding than beginning. The excitement now is palpably more confident that this is an initiative which people will increasingly embrace and with a greater impact.

What do I find most exciting about Change Day?

  • People are recognising and embracing the NEED to change.
  • People are empowered to identify and make change(s) themselves, rather than just be subject to changes made around them.
  • Change Day prompts every one of us, whether working in health or not, to think about what we could each do to improve health. Improving the health of our community is everyone’s responsibility.
  • The benefit of teams uniting to pledge together has also been highlighted by many.
  • How great are the fabulously creative ideas that people have come up with? Some even involve creativity in health (see my posts on Where health and creativity intersect and The healing power of creativity if you want to understand why this excites me).
  • The enormous cumulative potential of many people each pledging to do even just one thing – collectively we can make a huge difference.

The power of Change Day is in the simplicity. 

Just think what can be achieved if we repeat and grow Change Day Australia every year!

Personally I have found it extraordinarily rewarding to help drive something that has so much potential, to meet so many people passionate about creating opportunities for positive change in health and to learn from the creative approaches taken by others.

My Change Day Australia 2015 pledge

Jacquie Garton-Smith Change Day 2015

This year I have pledged to work with my colleagues and networks to help people with (or at significant risk of) cardiovascular and other chronic health conditions to improve the quality of their lives through better access to information, support and more options for care outside hospitals, especially towards the end of life.

It’s no small ask but for me this allows me to draw across the different positions I hold, the networks of which I am a part to do something valuable and my passion for writing. There is some scope to achieve this in different ways. Flexibility is good as how things can be best done may be not fully appreciated even knowing what the starting steps are. Once you decide what you need to do, opportunities appear. As soon as I pledged I felt enormous relief – I could now get on with doing rather than thinking about what to do or how to word it!

Over to you – I urge you to pledge now!

Big or small, easy or difficult, creative or picking up on someone else’s idea, under anonymity or with your name … Whatever works as long as it will in some way improve health.

Go on, you know it’s the right thing to do.

Have you thought about a pledge for Change Day?

If you’ve pledged – either this year or before – what have you achieved so far?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences – please share them in the comments.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+.

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© 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

 

My take on the “One Lovely Blog Award”

Like the lovely Melinda Tognini, whose erudite thoughts you can read at Treefall Writing and who kindly nominated me, I have decided to gratefully accept and participate in the “One Lovely Blog Award” because I like the idea of supporting other bloggers. I’ve seen a similar scheme badged under “The Versatile Blogger Award” and I’m sure there are others. Of these “awards” what I have enjoyed is seeing blogger’s recommendations of other blogs that I may not have otherwise found, many of which I have ended up following.

lovely-blog[1]

A nominated blogger who chooses to participate is asked to:

  • mention the person who made the nomination;
  • add the award logo to their post;
  • list seven things about him/herself; and
  • nominate other blogs for the award and let them know.

So in the spirit of fulfilling these requirements …

7 things about me (I’ve strived for things you most likely won’t know):

  1. Living the first five and a half years of my life in Kalgoorlie has conditioned me to hate going outside with bare feet – the ground was often blisteringly hot and not infrequently full of nasty prickles.
  2. I howled in confused terror the first time I saw rain – I was born during a drought and didn’t experience rain until we travelled to London to visit my grandparents when I was aged 2 ½ years. Paradoxically I am always comforted to hear rain on the roof now.
  3. I also vividly remember screaming at the colour TV when Playschool featured a tractor driving towards the camera that same holiday – I thought it was going to drive out of the screen. There was no television broadcast in Kalgoorlie so it was all new to me (indeed when TV came to Kal a couple of years later it was only in black & white).
  4. I adore silence when I’m alone – so good for the soul just to be rather than fill the void of an empty house with TV or radio.
  5. I am not sure if my love of dragonflies came from my love of art nouveau or if I was drawn initially to art nouveau because of all the dragonflies.
  6. One of the many things I love about Australia is the multicultural cuisine – yum! The palate has no excuse to be bored in this country.
  7. I have more grey hair in the latter half of my forties than my mother does in her seventies.

And the nominees are … a mixture of new and not-so-new bloggers. I will not be at all offended if those I nominate prefer not to accept the award. This is about sharing blogs I enjoy, not obligating anyone! My rationale is that to support emerging bloggers, established bloggers who post GREAT content should also be eligible. I think you’ll see my bent for writing, creativity and health with the huge overlap noted.

Because I am a list-freak (you possibly already know that from my bio’s) I need order and this may help you work out which are relevant for you:

Writing

  • Tips from Belinda Pollard at Small Blue Dog Publishing – one word = INVALUABLE
  • Natasha Lester – a veritable font of writing support
  • Elizabeth Spann Craig – great posts and a weekly list of twitterific links which are fab too.
  • Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn and Molly Greene – both share all manner of wonderful insider knowledge about writing and publishing.
  • Write to Done claims “Unmissable articles on writing” – close to the mark.
  • Writer Unboxed – varied and helpful posts and I highly recommend the WU Facebook group too.
  • If Melinda Tognini hadn’t nominated me first I’d most definitely have nominated her – Treefall Writing is newer but clearly one to follow!

Creativity

  • Because authenticity and creativity go hand in hand I have categorised Dionne Lew’s Be Your Whole Self here … but this blog truly has so much more!
  • Inspire Portal – there’s a lot here to browse so I recommend you visit the “About” page for an explanation of the tabs – The Island, The Boat, The Beach, The Temple, The Juice Bar and The Forest …

Medical

  • Fellow GP, Dr Edwin Kruys at Doctor’s Bag taught me heaps about how doctors can blog, especially the older posts on his Social Media tab.
  • For Australian GPs: FOAM4GP – A fabulous free quality online medical education blog.

A wonderful hotchpotch of the above topics and more

  • Mother, doctor and writer, Louise Allan on “Life from the Attic” – heartfelt posts and spot-on book reviews.
  • Laura Zera mostly on travel and mental health, a blog I keep coming back to.

Social Media

  • Dionne Lew – Yup, a second nomination for Dionne but a very different and useful blog.

At first I thought I’d struggle to think of 15, then found myself struggling to keep the list to 15. Apologies to those who didn’t make the short-list.

What are your thoughts on awards like these?

What great blogs have I missed?

I’d love to hear about blogs that you’d suggest are worth a visit – please share them in the comments.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS), Facebook and Google+.

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© 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith

When push comes to shove – juggling priorities in a time-poor world

I’ve had to make a conscious choice about my writing in recent months. Write? Yes, absolutely! But I’ve needed to prioritise which writing to focus my time on. The truth is I enjoy researching and writing blog posts. But in an already tightly scheduled life, every minute I spent preparing posts was time I was stealing from work on my novels.

work-life-creative balance

“We’re all busy!” I hear you cry. Indeed we are.

“You must post on a regular schedule,” many blogs proclaim. Indeed in an ideal world that is probably true.

“Blogging will make you a better writer …” Writing regularly will make you a better writer. Variety is good and blogging is but one great way to do this. Most importantly we must be writing.

“It doesn’t take long …” I have found that depends on the topic – some fly onto the page, others need a lot more thought.

I started blogging in 2013 and my fiction writing slowed down. Dramatically. Since I’ve taken a deliberate break from blogging, I re-found my momentum. I’ve been more focused and writing with greater clarity. I’ve finished the first draft of my second work-in-progress, completed a couple of rounds of editing on my first novel and gone back to do one on my second. This stage, although exciting, requires a major investment of time and emotional energy. As for most writers, juggling writing, family, work (I have three part-time jobs all of which I love), the usual chores and a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise can be challenging. What I have come to realise is it isn’t just about the time. It is also about the mental space to develop ideas and let them percolate; to process and, at times, stand back to gain perspective. To recharge the emotional energy bank. And to deal with the other challenges that life throws our way, especially if prone to be more of an intuitive type. Sometimes we just need to say “Enough!” I applaud you if you are doing it all and managing well and I thank those of you who have shared that you couldn’t. I came to the point that I had to accept my own limitations. As a GP, I’m constantly talking up work-life balance. Writing is a tricky one because it is as much a passion as an occupation. So maybe it’s more of a work-life-creative balance. If the need to prioritise strikes a chord, how might you do so?

  • What must you do? These are things that have to be given your attention (warning: do not let negotiable items slip in here). I put them at the top because I know they distract me if I don’t work out a plan to do them. Sometimes it’s best to do them asap to liberate yourself, otherwise scheduling time to do them later can free you to fit in regular time for other pursuits …
  • What do you most want to do? You may know immediately or you may have to reflect on this. There can be more than one but it can’t be everything … anything that isn’t a burning desire should go into the next category.
  • What’s negotiable? Being a fan of writing down what I need/want to get done to release them from my brain without fear of forgetting, I usually have a longish list. Sometimes something gets to promoted to one of the categories above, others slowly get ploughed through when I have a free minute, am too tired to write or need a short break from something else. They do get done but in my own time and not in competition with the more important items.
  • What you have achieved? Acknowledging what you have done is energising. Even crossing something off a list is satisfying, or even better, starting a new list because one has most items completed. Big achievements need even more celebration.
  • REVIEW your priorities regularly. You can shuffle them and sometimes they need adjustment to meet life’s demands.

Why am I writing a post now?  I’ve come to a natural hiatus, needing to take a step back for some distance before more editing and with ideas for my next novel gestating (yep you guessed it – in the form of a list of ideas!). Writing this popped up in my most-want-to-do category this week and here we are …

How about you? Have you had to prioritise your creativity?

What happened? What did you find useful?

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.

Jacquie

P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS)Facebook and Google+ .

Disclaimer

© 2014 Jacquie Garton-Smith