Life is a journey. The imagery for envisioning our individual paths varies based on the unique experiences of each person. My path embraces the natural terrain of a peaceful forest. Patches of sunlight peek through the leaves as I walk, delivering warm positive thoughts. Of course, some stretches of the path are rocky. I’ve hiked through thunderstorms. My heart has been bitten by frigid snow as well. Still – I keep going. I know storms end. I have faith the darkness of night will be expelled by a benevolent sun.
Our journeys don’t stay on a single path. Life is full of byways and turns. Each decision we make takes us on a new trail. If we are wise, then we will use what we have learned from past excursions.
Encouraging Tips for The Next Leg of Your Journey
Reflect with an open and forgiving mind as you look back on your journey
Be Compassionate with yourself and others. You didn’t have the knowledge then that you do now
Let the past go, taking with you only the things that will aid you in future trails
Each year I join a multitude of other book lovers in the Goodreads.com Reading Challenge. It’s a great way to set and track reading goals. I typically list my goals at two to three books per month for a nice round total of thirty. Sometimes I exceed my goals. Other times – like this year – it’s a challenge to squeeze in thirty books.
The benefits participating in this yearly challenge make the time investment well worth it. Here are my top three benefits for folks to try the reading challenge in 2021:
Encourages individuals to read when they typically don’t spend a great deal of time exploring books
Free and fun way to engage with other book lovers
Goodreads offers Lists for readers to discover new books and authors they may not have found otherwise
Here are my top favorite new finds from the 2020 Goodreads Reading Challenge:
The Felix Castor series by Mike Carey – Listed in Amazon Genre: Ghost Thrillers. Felix Castor is an exorcist barely making ends meet in a modern, but alternate version of London, UK. In this world, ghosts are a reality and zombies walk the streets.
The Troop by Nick Cutter – Listed in Amazon Genre: Genetic Engineering Science Fiction. A Must – Listen to the audiobook! The narrator gives a John Malkovich vibe that really sends this read over the top.
Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo – Listed in Amazon Genre: International Mystery and Crime. I first discovered Harry Hole when he appeared in the 2017 movie “The Snowman” with Michael Fassbender. Harry, the lead detective in the Oslo crime squad, is such an intriguing personality. Nesbo has given us a clever but flawed main character. I can’t wait to read more in the series for 2021
Do you have book suggestions for the 2021 Reading Challenge? Let us know in the comments.
Be Positive. Be Happy. Be Well. AND sign up for the 2021 Reading Challenge!
2020 smashed all perceived notions of success. Institutions we KNEW were solid suddenly faltered. Movie theatres closed. Even the Big Mouse started their own streaming service and releases its movies on that platform. I don’t see many near-term plans for traditional theatre releases.
So, what does that mean for your creative project? Will the time and creative energy you put into that novel, screenplay or other art go to waste? Let’s break it down to what we mean by “Successful.”
Financial – Simple. Nobody’s getting rich right now unless you own tons of stock in Amazon.
Conclusion – Everyone is in the same boat. No need to judge your progress by anyone else’s level of success (or failure). The pressure is off!
Fame – Globally, we are inundated with COVID 19 news, the American Presidency, and advertisements for early Holiday spending. Nobody can hear you right now unless you fit into one of these categories.
Conclusion – If you are counting on a huge social media party for your new book (or other artistic project), then there is a big chance you’ll be disappointed.
Changing Your Focus from Outcome to Fulfillment
In March 2020, I and my colleagues were told to work from home until further notice. The USA was on lockdown. We were all stuck at home. No face-to-face interactions with my readers. It’s very difficult to work in a vacuum. We produce art, but what if we don’t know whether or not someone is experiencing what we create? It has been frustrating and depressing. I wasn’t able to write much if at all during those early days.
The pandemic forced me to take a hard look at why I write. It’s easy to tell yourself you create your art for the sake of art. Then a horrible global event happens. Depression sets in. You crack open a bag of potato chips and lose yourself binge watching TV. The blank page stays empty. You no longer experience the excitement of planning for the next book’s release. No one knows if or when things will return to normal.
I can’t stay away from the act of creation for long. This time was different. I began to work on something new. It isn’t part of my book series. Nor is it in my “comfort zone.” This is a new story I am creating with no expected outcomes. I’m writing it, because I am a creator. I must create my art. It is who I am and what fulfills me.
Be kind to your inner creator. Cast out your expected outcomes for your creative projects. Now is the time to get back to the simple pleasure creation brings.
I’m fussy about what I read. So many books, so little time. The Memoir and Biography genre doesn’t typically interest me. Self-aggrandizing celebrities and politicians with their pictures splashed on a book cover written by someone else – hard pass. Then I started doing research for my novel about the Santa Fe Trail. My notion of memoirs changed a bit. The most impactful book I’ve read to date is a memoir not written by a sports star, but rather written by a woman living her life in the Southwest during the 1800s.
Her recollections make this memoir real for the reader. We share her shock and fear when the wagon train comes across gruesome deaths and other violence against innocents. These accounts, for me anyway, were more troubling when I stopped to consider this isn’t a work of fiction. The murders – witnessed by Marian as both child and woman – really happened. I found myself grieving with her when she experiences tragedy as a young wife. Marian was an extraordinary woman who took on a sometimes-brutal land. She was a true pioneer.
I believe part of the allure of this book for me is the setting. I’ve lived in the Rocky Mountains most of my life. Many times, I’ve traveled across Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada (in a car) passing through the places she mentions in her book. How about you? Do you know who lived in your hometown before it was a town? Seek out the stories that reveal more than one dull paragraph in a history book. You might be amazed by what you find.
The internet is a wealth of information. Some of the information you find is correct and helpful. Other tidbits are flat out wrong. Getting hardcore facts is critical when conducting research for my books. Readers want realism no matter the genre and I, as a writer, want to make them feel as if they are experiencing the story along with the characters. I enhance what I learn from books and historical evidence with human experience.
My current “Work in Progress” is a ghost story set on the Santa Fe Trail at the end of the US Civil War. Historical accounts and facts give the book accuracy, but the human experience comes from enthusiasts of the Santa Fe Trail. I’ve enjoyed watching lectures and travel videos of folks who love to visit destinations along this important route. Living in the Rocky Mountains most of my days, I have the life experience to draw on as well.
Are you an enthusiast in a special topic or historical event? Why not share your knowledge? If you write a blog, volunteer to speak on the topic, or make a video, I guarantee you will find an audience.
Maybe it’s the writer in me, but I believe the struggle between Positive and Negative is a war. Imagine two kingdoms fighting for control in the battlefield of human consciousness. One side wants to lift humanity higher and encourages us to follow our own dreams. It values freedom of thought, kindness, and creativity. The other side wants to control through fear, depression, and hatred. I don’t know why. I suspect there is a larger agenda hidden from us.
Negativity has powerful weapons. Fear-mongering can be a blunt instrument that smashes common sense. It can also use gossip to subtly undermine. Both tactics are part of Negativity’s Deception arsenal. Lies cause mistrust. Mistrust causes resentment and hatred. If you don’t trust anyone, you will become isolated and depressed. The energy to fight negativity is lost to you.
Positivity may seem to be losing the war right now, but our side has powerful weapons too.
Acts of Kindness outweigh violence
Truth spoken with Love cancels out lies and ignorance
Knowledge smashes the barbs of fear and misdirection
And the most powerful weapon of all? We have each other! Be an encourager. Lift someone else up!
No matter how horrible things get or how upset I feel, I refuse to feed the enemy’s forces. What about you? How will you stand in the face of Negativity?
Task Lists are helpful. They serve as reminders for all the stuff we need to accomplish each day, week, or year. Lists manage our productivity and keep us humming along. I rely on them to keep me sane with my many literary projects. Ticking off completed tasks gives me a feeling of accomplishment. During this pandemic, however, they are seriously stressing me out.
Our world has morphed into an unpredictable and sometimes frightening place. Yes. I know. If I’m honest, life has always been an unpredictable minefield in which I had no control over anything. But it was my minefield and I knew how to navigate it. Now? Not so much.
I’ve gone from:
Forcing a positive attitude: People need my art to help them feel better!
Then Depression: What’s the point? Does my art really matter?
Finally, Acceptance: The world continues to change. Success looks different now. I must remember why I do my art. In a word: Love
Do What You Can Do
I have days when my creative brain won’t cooperate due to stress or depression. Here are a few ways I cope:
I putter around with practical tasks: formatting my manuscripts, researching topics, outlining unfinished chapters
I read manuscript drafts to remind myself of upcoming fun projects
I free write random ideas (nonsense is encouraged)
I try creative hobbies other than writing. Classical guitar is my newest interest
I silence my inner taskmaster
Be extra kind to your creative brain right now. It will eventually adjust to the new reality. Patience, mindfulness, and self-care will ensure your creativity thrives again.
The pandemic has been a curious motivator to clean out closets, dust off old hobbies, and re-examine priorities. Like most people, I’ve had the opportunity to go through stuff I’ve hidden in closets and on shelves. Are these objects hidden treasures or just junk gathering dust?
I hadn’t realized how sentimental I was until running across my musical instruments. One instrument is impossible to miss. I have a piano in my living room. Though I don’t play much anymore, I still hang onto it. I used to be a concert pianist in College. The piano is a comfortable fixture in my life. I like having the option of sitting down and playing music anytime I want.
Then we come to the string instruments. I have an acoustic guitar, a classical guitar, and two mandolins. The acoustic guitar has been with me through a divorce, flood, and three moves. Its case is damaged, but the guitar is still beautiful and looks new. I’ve never liked playing this guitar. The steel strings hurt my fingers. The neck is small and awkward in my hands. Why have I kept it for the past twenty-plus years if I don’t like it? No idea.
The classical guitar has nylon strings and a wider neck. It’s comfortable to play and sounds beautiful. I have decided to keep this one and sell the acoustic guitar. This is a huge breakthrough for me! I’m still working on letting go of the mandolins and possibly the piano. Baby steps.
What about you? Are you holding onto things that don’t fit your life anymore? Let them go and make room for new experiences.
It’s a foggy dismal morning. My Labrador Retriever, Mr. Pooh, doesn’t seem to mind. The new spring bunnies are hopping around the wet grass. He loves pretending to chase them. Pooh runs a few yards and then goes on point. We both understand it’s just a game and no fuzzy critters will get hurt. Bunnies are a great source of doggy entertainment on a Spring morning.
Giraffe – Unknown artist Aurora, CO
I tug at my coat collar and watch him sniff about as we walk. The coffee isn’t kicking in yet. I long for the sunshine and warmer weather. This damp gloom is souring my mood.
Penguin – Unknown artist Aurora, CO
Then I see it. Some talented soul has painted art on a little hope rock and left it to cheer their neighbors. One…Two…Three little gifts of beauty. I take pictures to share with you. And I wonder if I’ve missed other signs of Love, Hope, and Joy when I was stuck in my own gloomy thoughts.
Gnome – Unknown artist Aurora, CO
How about you? Are you seeking out little signs of beauty and joy?