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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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In the Notebook

Writing, Creativity, The Arts

My Happy List

This blog post could alternately be titled: Why I Don’t Write Every Day. I know, I know. Writers are supposed to write every day. Most books on writing, writing teachers and even other writers will tell you to write every day. Write when you don’t feel like it. Especially when you don’t feel like it. Pick a time, preferably the same time every day (to train your muse as to when to show up), and just do it. Well, I’ve tried, and dammit, I give up. I’m tired of trying, and failing, to find enough time in the day. I’m embracing my inner lazy person and letting it go. I’m officially letting myself off the hook. No guilt.

What prompted this revamping of my schedule is a post on Facebook. (Facebook is a major time-waster that should probably be re-prioritized by many of you, myself included, though it did inspire this blog.) Anyway, here’s the post.

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1. Make a list of the things that make you happy.

2. Make a list of things you do every day.

3. Compare the lists.

4. Adjust accordingly.

Brilliant. And so simple. I’m sure my cousin, who originally shared this basic wisdom, will be pleased to know I’ve taken it to heart.

So, what makes me happy these days? Taking care of myself. Being and staying healthy. As a result, I’ve decided my time at the gym or time doing yoga is time well spent. I also really enjoy walking Frankie. Which is fortunate because he really needs to be walked once, sometimes twice daily. It’s usually an hour long affair with several stops in the shade where I can listen to the birds and think of nothing while he pees and then kicks, pees and kicks, pees and kicks in the grass to his heart’s content. See, it makes him happy too. So, it’s a win-win. And lastly, I love being involved in a good book. So, reading makes my list. Oh! And I almost forgot – Mom! (How could I forget with the coming Mother’s Day weekend?) We really do have fun together when she’s not driving me crazy. (Sorry, I know that’s kind of a back-handed compliment.) So, there’s my happy list. Taking care of my health. Walking Frankie. Reading. Spending time with Mom.

And I’ve been making adjustments, or re-prioritizing, based on my list. Like last week, I dropped everything to sit on my deck and enjoy the beautiful weather we’ve been having in Jacksonville while reading a book. Or before that, I left dirty dishes in the sink and, still  in my pajamas well after noon, went out back to sit by the pool with Mom. The choices are easier. Dirty dishes? Getting showered and dressed? Hey, not on the list.

You’ll notice writing didn’t make the list. Not that it doesn’t make me happy … Well, wait. Who am I kidding? Show me the writer who joyfully sits down to write every day and I’ll show you a writer with an open bottle of scotch on the ready and a drinking problem. For most of us, it’s torture. The idea of being a writer makes me happy. The idea of writing every day? Not so much. There’s a difference.

I’ve decided to look at it like author Patricia Cornwell, who advised, “Treat your writing like a relationship, and not a job.” I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’ve been punching a clock. And, hey, if that works for you and makes you happy – then punch away. There just aren’t enough hours in my day. If I view it as a relationship, it becomes less like work and more about maintaining that connection. I’ll always come back to it. I’d miss it.

I’ll even take it one step further. My writing is like a marriage. I’m ready to make that serious commitment. To vow that writing will always be a part of my life. Just not my daily life. It’s like my husband lives out of state. Or we have separate houses. But we talk often.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been writing all day and a certain somebody needs a walk.20150315_121425

What are YOU reading?

mykI feel like a public service announcement with this month’s blog post. Remember that campaign that started in the late 80s? Well, this is my campaign. And it’s true – the more you know … I’m not sure how that sentence ends, but trust me, it’s positive. So here we go.

Something came to my attention a few weeks ago that I found odd, if not downright disheartening. My yoga teacher has a tradition of having everyone go around the room at the beginning of class to answer a question. It’s a fun way to introduce yourself, break the ice, let others get to know you. The week’s question: What are you reading? Now I think this group is a pretty fair sampling of society, with people of all ages, from all walks of life. And do you know that the vast majority of folks were not reading anything? I think I could count on two hands those of us who gave legitimate answers. The rest offered up things like online newspapers, magazines or textbooks. Let me tell you something – it may be called a book, but Facebook doesn’t count! In this day and age of the Internet, entertainment technology and social networking, people are much more likely to be looking down at their phone than down at a book. You’re excused if your book is on your phone. Contrary to some, I’m not against e-readers or Kindle apps.

I think I’ve had an answer to the reading question ever since a writing teacher first prepared me for it, if not before. “Always have an answer to the question, ‘What are you reading?'”, he said. Or don’t bother to call yourself a writer. I’m paraphrasing this last part, but you get the drift. If you want to be a writer, you have to read. I think that’s probably in every writing book ever written. But don’t get me wrong. I was like anybody else. I partied in college and just “got by.” Then, when I had a clearer idea of who I wanted to become, I read. I read all the books on old course syllabi in my twenties. And I’ve been reading ever since.

r1But even if you don’t aspire to writing, you should be reading. Take it from Canada’s National Reading Campaign. Geez, socially speaking, that country may have one-upped us here in the U.S. (If it weren’t so damn cold, I might’ve even moved there.) But seriously, they say reading improves your physical health, mental health and empathy. I think I learned somewhere that serial killers lack empathy at an early age. So, we’re raising a society full of murderers? Yikes. If that doesn’t scare you into cracking open a book or sharing a bedtime story with your kid, then consider this next graphic:r2

 

Or this one:r

Six minutes! Who doesn’t have six minutes? Make it a priority. If you really don’t have time to spare, consider shutting off the television or computer a little earlier than normal. I know you make time for that, I see you on Facebook. And you don’t even have to be fast! I read and reread the same page of Wild (yes, the movie) before finally giving up on it. I trudged through Wicked for six months and I’m still not sure what happened. But consider this: being in the middle of a book makes you look smart at the least. Some of that knowledge is bound to seep in. And you know, the more you know …

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Reading …

q1We knew this day would come. Okay, maybe you all didn’t know, but I knew. I can’t very well write this blog forever, can I? The answer is no, I can’t. All good things must come to an end. Well, let me rephrase that because I’ve never been good with the finality of endings. It’s more a hiatus of sorts. Yes, I’m taking a sabbatical.

My friend Mary, along with other writers, have commended me on the regularity of this blog. Every Sunday. For just over three years. I know some friends and family who’ll miss it dearly, for it’s how they’ve grown accustomed to keeping up with my life. Even my mom still learns new things about me, and she lives right next door.

But maybe Mary’s the one who has it figured out. Writing when the mood strikes, instead of on a production schedule. Maybe that’s the secret to longevity. She’s more productive and she’s been at this for a lot longer than me. She also types faster than nine words a minute using both hands. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist playing the handicapped card one more time. I’m sure it won’t be the last.)

It’s like before I became disabled. It was everything I could do to struggle awake for work when the alarm went off at 7:30. Now, with nowhere to be, my eyes pop open, sans alarm, at 5:30 a.m. So maybe, now that I don’t have to publish a post, it will be easier.

Not that it was so difficult. It wasn’t. And I did get better. Better at not flying into a panic the last half of the week if I didn’t have an idea yet. It was a good practice for me. I learned to trust the process.

But, oh the energy. Knowing you have three to five hundred words to put out there takes up a lot of mental space in your brain. And there are lots of things I want that space for. For starters, I need to get my book published. Apparently, book deals aren’t like bananas at sporting events — they don’t just hand them out when you’re done.

And I have so many interests! So many passions. Writing will always be one of them — a main one. But there’s also my health — and the fitness routine I need to get back to. The weather’s getting nice, I want to swim in the pool with Mom and maybe coax Frankie in (he hates water). And travel. I still want to travel. Maybe live in a foreign country? If I ever figure out how to do that, you know I’ll have to blog about it. Or write another book. Handicapped traveler in a foreign land? That adventure seems ripe with opportunity for comedic mishap.

Yes, most certainly there’ll be other posts. Make sure you’re signed up for my blog so you’ll receive an email when I’ve posted something new since this Sunday-like-clockwork thing can’t be counted on anymore.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from disability, it’s that you only have one life and it’s short. Make time for all your passions. Make time for more. And do it now.q2

 

The Business of Writing

Business of WritingThere’s a side of writing that I absolutely hate and I’m no good at. When the work is done and as clean as I can make it, it’s usually time to find it a home. To publish it. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as in the blogging world where you just hit “publish.”

“What do you have to do?” a friend asked me about my book, which to me sounded like, “Oh yeah? What’s so hard about it?”

Nothing. There’s nothing so hard about it. Write a query letter to various agents or publishers, and wait. Or edit it a little to fit the word count requirement if it’s an article or essay. And wait.

“Well, you gotta research websites, make sure they’re a good fit, check their guidelines. Everybody wants things sent a different way,” I complained.

“But your query letter is done, right? Don’t you use the same one?”

“Yeah, but you gotta sit down, change the dates, who it’s addressed to …” Ooh, tough, right? I knew I was stretching.

I mean, really. What’s my problem? It’s not even like I’m shooting in the dark. My writing coach has handed me a list of agents who publish similar things! Which is basically half the work, if not more. So, what’s my excuse?

I don’t have one. Not a good one, anyway. I’ve got plenty of weak ones. Frankie needs walking. I have to go to the gym. The Olympics are on. Actually, those are half decent. Next week, it’ll be: It’s a close game of Words With Friends, The Voice is on, or Frankie ate my query letter. It’s called procrastination, folks. And I’m guilty of it when it comes to submitting my work for publication.

When I’m writing, the words seem to bubble out like coffee from a percolator. It feels like there’s an energy behind them, an unseen motivator urging me on like a personal trainer. Once it’s written, the rest is just work. Like paying bills or doing taxes. The trainer has left the building and I have to benchpress a hundred pounds all by myself. With no one to spot me.

I’m writing this in my pajamas. Submitting something for publication feels like having to set my alarm to get dressed for an interview. Downtown. Or trying to cram my now widened and comfortable feet into stockings and heels. (Do women even still wear stockings or is that just a bad memory leftover from working in the 90s?)

Nevertheless, it’s a necessary evil of the writing world. That is, if you ever want people to read your words. And not just on your blog either.

And now that I’ve complained about it on my blog, my very best excuse, it’s time to hit “publish.” I’ve got other business to attend to.

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.  ~William James

The Idea Factory

blogSometimes I feel like my idea factory is about to be shut down. Like all the workers have gone on strike due to poor working conditions. They’re demanding higher wages. And shorter working days. I wish I could help them.

It’s times like these I’m grateful to have other writer friends to lament to.

And just like they say – when you’re blocked, you should write about being blocked. When you can’t think of an idea, you should write about thinking up ideas. Well, no one says that. I just made it up. But, I think it’s legit. I’m going to write my way out of the fear of never coming up with another good idea. So, here goes.

The first thing any writer (or artist, or songwriter, really anyone that needs ideas) should have is some place to keep notes. It can be special (a beautiful, leather-bound journal) or ordinary (a file folder full of scribbled-on napkins). The point is that all these scribblings are kept together. So you can locate and refer to them.

I used to keep a folder full of handwritten notes, back when my notes were handwritten. Now, I use a handheld voice recorder given to me by a friend. I just have to make sure I transcribe these notes onto the computer in full detail when it’s fresh. Otherwise, I’ll have no idea what I was talking about. Like the old recording I recently found with the words “bus,” “bad mood” and “whispering.” I’m sure it was brilliant at the time, but now it means nothing.

Any form of media can usually get the wheels turning again. Think pop culture: books, movies, television, magazines, music. There’s many a movie I’ve blogged about in the past and one post “all about books.” Literally. That’s what it was called.

I make time for TV and magazines. I consider it research. I’m not saying you can justify a subscription to Us Weekly – unless all you write about is fluff. But I do check out The Huffington Post and 60 Minutes from time to time for that purpose. And Downton Abbey is just a blog waiting to happen. Something about women’s rights and British high society. It’s still brewing.

Eavesdrop on conversations. People watch at the airport. It’s all “filling the well” as author Julia Cameron says in The Artist’s Way. Sound bites and snippets for nuggets of future genius. In fact, Ms. Cameron encourages students to take themselves on “Artist Dates” to continually fill the well of inspiration. And an Artist Date can be to any place that nourishes your creativity, even the unexpected places. Treat yourself to a museum, garden or park. How about a diner or coffeeshop? Even a cemetary.

The last place you can look for ideas is in your own head. It’s filled with a lifetime of memories that may spin off into your next great idea. Maybe you just need to open an old photo album or yearbook to remind yourself. And what’s not there, your mind can make up. Particularly in your sleep, so write down your dreams.

As for me, I’ve got to go make some notes. The workers have returned and my factory’s back in business.

Lessons from a Classic

gwtwI may be from Miami, that modern, forward-thinking city stuck in the South, but I must be a Southerner. Every year while growing up, my mom and I watched Gone With the Wind. The 1939 Best Picture may be a classic, but I bet not many New Yorkers can say that. And the tradition continues. We watched it again last night with friends. It never gets old. Here are just a few morsels that can be applied to life today:

I can’t think about that now, I’ll think about that tomorrow.                                        (A procastinator’s gold. Always sound advice.)

gwtw5What a gentleman says and what he thinks are two different things.

(I don’t mean to sound bitter here, but …)

gwtw7Do not squander time.

That is the stuff life is made of.

 
Most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars. And when the wars were over no one ever knew what they were about.
(It bears repeating. And repeating …)
With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.

gwtw1

You should be kissed, and often, by someone who knows how. (Damn.)

The happiest days are when babies come.

There must be a great deal of good in a man who could love a child so much.

(And my favorite.) After all, tomorrow is another day.gwtw2

To the Woods

woods 2 “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden

CAM00128My writing group spent this past week in a cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia. I think we all went for the same reason as Mr. Thoreau. We, too, wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. Most of these women have families — spouses, children or grandchildren. But though we are a quilt of many different patchworks, a common thread unites us. Writing.

This might be my favorite group to travel with. Everyone knows what it’s like to travel with family or friends and find it difficult. Someone wants to see every sight right down to a museum exhibit on the history of local postage stamps. Other people don’t want to see anything but the backs of their eyelids. Some are early risers. photoSome like to stay in the hot tub till 2 a.m., drinking and talking. (I’m both, obviously.) The thing about this group is — for me, it’s like traveling alone, only better. How freeing to be with a bunch of women where there is no pressure or squabbling. To do exactly what you want to do, when you want to do it.

CAM00157At any given moment someone might be reading, someone else making dinner. Another two might be lost on a hike (literally) while someone else works quietly, watching the mist settle over the mountains. This was a writing retreat, so there was plenty of that, along with lots of appreciation for the beauty of words. What was more unexpected was the depth of comraderie and fact that I could be so relaxed and comfortable away from the comforts of home and my accessibility aids (i.e., special pole, shower bench, etc.) The cabin was advertised as accessible, but that was pretty much a joke. It took three people to help me negotiate the steep ramp, and two more to get me in and out of the shower or hot tub.

CAM00148But that’s the way this group is. Everyone supports and helps everyone else. I never once felt like I was putting anyone out. A rarity, since traveling with me comes with some unique challenges. There’s something wonderful about spending time with a group of people unlinked by family bonds or shared alma mater. People that come together, instead, over a common interest. Something important to us all.

I guess what I’m trying to say is — I found my peeps. May you find yours.cabin1

Fall Cleaning

fileI’ve never felt more like a real writer than since I stopped writing.

Not really stopped, of course. I still write this weekly post, after all. But I stopped writing with the disorganized intensity that comes with writing a book. I can breathe again. The little black cloud that has been following me around for years — consuming all my thoughts, making me feel guilty whenever I did something, anything, else — has disappeared. I want everything to feel fresh and clean after the storm. It’s time to get organized.

It’s been feeling like Christmas morning lately. When the Office Depot or Office Max delivery truck pulls up, I get so giddy it might as well be Santa’s sleigh. I’ve been purchasing file cabinets, Manila folders and desk organizers. I admit it, the thought of establishing so much order makes me unnaturally happy. My mother’s unsolicited psychoanalysis of me is that I have a need to exert control over my surroundings. I say neatly labeled green and purple files are just pretty.

Besides, she does it too. She’s next door right now, surrounded by piles of books, separating them into piles to keep or give away. The closets are next. The difference, she would say, is that she has no delusions about why she’s doing it. Feeling a little down? Lacking a good night’s sleep? Something bothering you? Time to clean. I prefer to think I’m just a highly organized person. Mom would say I’m in denial.

Either way, writer or no, both sides of the house are looking pretty good. And, it must be said, there’s something very writerly about having a file marked “Ideas” in which to put unfinished stories, random thoughts or a beautiful sentence that comes to you at 3:00 in the morning. And when I’m ready to submit some story for publication, I’ll go to the file marked “Places to Submit.” That is, until the next book idea takes hold of me. The clouds’ll be building and the wind picking up soon now.

Benefits of Getting Organized

  • Save Time – How long does it take you to leave the house in the morning? Stop wasting time running around from one end to the other looking for misplaced items.
  • Save Money – Penalties for late payments is money down the drain. Planning a meal will save you money on expensive last minute take out and wasted groceries.
  • Reduce Stress – You’ll feel better about your environment and have more time for yourself or your family. Organization creates relaxation.
  • Increase Productivity – Perform with increased efficiency. Missed appointments or deadlines will be a thing of the past, leaving you better able to achieve your goals.

At Noon on Tuesday (I Mean Wednesday)

There’s something wonderful about drinking in the middle of afternoon. It’s so forbidden. So frowned upon. I love it. I guess that’s why I like the lyrics to that poppy Sheryl Crow song, “All I Wanna Do.” You know, “… is have some fun.”

Well, I did it. Popped open the champagne one afternoon last week with my friend, Diane. I finished (with her invaluable help) editing my memoir, Misadventures of a Happy Heart: A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability. 

I had no idea the whole process was going to take forever. My eyes are open now. I don’t see how people write second novels. Unless, it’s like childbirth and you forget the pain amid the joys of parenthood/authorship. I’m obviously just guessing.

But, it was a feat worth celebrating. Of course, this had me looking up quotes on celebration. As usual, I found a bunch I liked, so I’ll let you choose your favorite. Don’t forget to make time for your own celebrations. Not just birthdays and anniversaries, but the days you had a little more to do with. And, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.130807_0003

“Celebrate what you want to see more of.” ~Thomas J. Peters

“Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die.” ~Dave Matthews

“The year you were born marks only your entry into the world. Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.” ~Jarod Kintz

“A good time occurs precisely when we lose track of what time it is.” ~Robert Farrar Capon

“Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living.” ~Sydney Smith

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” ~Oprah Winfrey

 

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