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A friend gave me a book a while ago with the words: “You need this. Read it.” I thanked her, then put it on the window sill in my office (aka The Graveyard of Random Notes and Lists of Things to be Done), where it continued to live for the next eight or ten weeks. A couple of days ago I finally picked it up. And I must say – she was right. I needed that book and it’s coming at a perfect time as well. Thank you Ilona!

The book in question is “Wishcraft: How to get what you really want” by Barbara Sher. I was sceptical at first. I had a period in my life where I got self-help books by the dozen out of the library and usually didn’t manage to read past the first five pages before I gave up in disgust. They always seemed to be written for other people, not for me. People who cared about career, how to manage a family, how to earn a lot of money. None of which applies to my life. However, Barbara Sher had me by the first page.

Her tone is so warm, so human, so down-to-earth that I immediately felt welcomed. And when I read on and realized that this book is not someone lecturing me on what I ought to have and ought to do to be a valuable member of society, but rather a book written by someone who tells me that everybody has genius inside them and reservoirs of talent and passion, whatever that passion may be! – and then goes on giving me exercise upon exercise for finding out what my passion is and what’s keeping me for living it and how to go about dealing with the things that stand in the way…  then, I think, I have found a new friend. That’s what it feels like. Someone who encourages me, shows me my strengths, believes in me.

I think that I already had a pretty good understanding of who I am and what my strengths are and in which direction my passions lie. That’s not to say the exercises weren’t useful to me – far from it, I found it very useful to really sit down with pen and paper and make lists and think things through, but what I mean, is that there hadn’t been any huge surprises (so far).

However, this morning as I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine that came through the living room window, I did get a surprise. The exercise was to list twenty things that bring me joy. No explanations, no qualifications and the only rule was to get to twenty. So I did. I wrote down things like: reading, developing characters, cuddling with the dog, hiking, swimming, sitting in the sun, taking photos, being with friends, … When I’d got to twenty, I looked into the book again and the next part of the exercise was to make a table and to note for each item the answers to questions like: When did I do this last? Is it cheap or expensive? Do I do it alone or with others? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it intellectual, physical, spiritual? … and to add as many questions as I wanted.

I started doing it, but noticed very soon that the answers were mostly the same. The majority of things I like are cheap to free, outdoors, physical and intellectual or physical and spiritual at the same time (like hiking… for me, that’s both physical and spiritual), it’s done alone, I usually do it spontaneously and it doesn’t require a lot of planning…. and all of them I haven’t done in a quite a while.

And that brought me up short. So apparently there are all these activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, most of which don’t cost me anything and can be done by myself without a lot of planning – and I’m not doing them??? Wow. Wait a minute. In other words, I’m forgoing a number of sources for happiness and contentment for no discernible reason except that I didn’t think about it or am too lazy to get up from my desk. What an eye-opener.

Needless to say, I’m going to make a conscious effort to include them into my present life. No use putting things off. Tomorrow morning, instead of talking the dog on our usual round, I’ll pack him into the car and drive somewhere new (up the hill on the other side of the valley, I think) and go for a really long walk. I’ll take my camera and instead of thinking of it as a necessary task that has to be performed, I’ll think of it as something that I have chosen voluntarily.

There, Barbara Sher – lesson learned, and I’m only in chapter 3.

If you want, try this exercise. Let us know what you found out. Even better, get the book and do all the other exercises. It’s fun and – who knows? – you might learn something new about yourself. 


talking to myself (a writing experiment)

After moaning about being unfocused and being gently-but-firmly kicked in the butt by Julie (who is a writing machine and has just published her first book, which I’m currently reading and which you should so check out), I stopped the complaining (out loud) and did sit down and write and have now, by Sunday afternoon, two fresh new chapters – yeay!

My morning walks with the dog, which I touched upon in the previous post (as a devious means to distract your attention from the fact that I was feeling sorry for myself) also enter into this post, although not for the pretty landscape, but for something I’ve been experimenting with: dictating the story to myself.

Usually when I walk the dog, I either just listen to my surroundings – especially in the mornings, when it’s still fresh and quiet and birds are singing – or, if I need a bit of escapism, I listen to audio books on my mp3-player (Georgette Heyer, anyone?). Shortly before November, when I was scrambling to get to know my characters sufficiently to be able to work with them, I decided to try and not only talk to myself in my head, which of course I do all the time, but to do it in a more constructive way and talk out loud and record it on my player. Which I did, feeling like a fool and falling silent every time I only saw another person approaching on the horizon. But it worked! Talking and asking questions out loud really focused my attention and I developped some interesting and quite unforeseen backstories.

This morning, I decided that I had enough backstory, that I didn’t need any more ‘about’. So I gulped – twice – and took out my trusty little mp3-player and started telling the story at the point where I had left off the night before. Every time I got stuck, I just repeated the sentence before and every time it clicked after two or so repetitions and I could carry on. It was amazing! I’d expected it to be more difficult, because usually I need my hands to move to have my best ideas, but somehow, it worked!

When I came back home with about 45 minutes of talk on my player, I was so psyched that I sat down, put on the earphones and started taking dictation from myself straight away. Now that really was weird, to be honest. Most of us, I think, feel uncomfortable with hearing our own voices outside of our head, and I had been almost whispering when I recorded it, as well as walking quite fast, so I was breathy and hard to understand even to myself! Also, every time I talked to the dog – to call him back or something – I switched to German and spoke much louder. Then I went back to telling the story in English in a half-whisper. People are strange, aren’t they?

Anyway, after typing what I’d told myself and adding some details here and there, I had a whole chapter where before, I’d had nothing. Magic! How cool is that?!

Have you ever dictated anything to yourself? Did it work for you? What other tricks do you know to move forward those troublesome stories? Do you feel as horribly self-conscious about hearing your own voice as I do?

Camp report no. 5 – Dancing or: The race is on!

I was stuck at 17407 words for five days. Then I progressed to 22463. And that’s where I stayed. I was in a slump. Total disintegration over a period of days, culminating in me staying up till four in the morning to watch random TV series that I wasn’t interested in and feeling sorry for myself. The reason is mainly my job(less) situation. Having nothing constructive to do all day and feeling not wanted… well, it can prey on your mind. The result was a total down. And with regard to writing and my Camp NaNo goal of writing 50,000 words in June – forget it! I pushed it back, thinking I would get back to it tomorrow, catch up then. The next day I didn’t feel up to it. My mind was blank, my thoughts sluggish, I couldn’t concentrate. The next day, it was the same, only possibly even worse. And so on. So yesterday, after several painful days of inaction and thoughts spiralling downwards, I decided to give up.

Well, maybe decided is the wrong word. I acknowledged to myself that I would never be able to catch up now, that I was too far behind. A part of me really wanted to fail, was relieved that I gave in to that little voice.  I decided I wouldn’t even get up in the morning. I would just stay in bed and sleep and read and sulk. Maybe I could induce one of my sisters to bring me a cup of tea or something. So you can imagine my joy when early this morning I heard the door to my room open and my youngest sister’s voice softly calling my name. I’d been deeply asleep, but I do wake up when somebody calls my name. I didn’t move though. Then she said my name again and I could hear from her voice that she was very upset. She said: ‘I have a tick in my leg. Can you help me?’

Believe me, it’s been a long time that I went from deep sleep to being fully awake in such a short time. Within seconds I was out of the bed and kneeling in front of her on the floor, examining the ugly insect that had buried itself into her calf. Unfortunately, I was clumsy in my attempt to rid her of it and ripped the damn thing out while leaving the head in the wound. So we ended up driving to the doctor, to sit in the waiting room for almost an hour, because of course we didn’t have an appointment and had to wait till they could squeeze her in. All of that without any tea or coffee! They cut the thing out and sterilized the wound and told her to watch it for any signs of infection and to be alert as to any signs of illness in the next six weeks. Because of course these little nasties can infect you with lyme disease or meningoencephalitis (in our area – they probably do all kinds of other bad stuff elsewhere). On the way back home we treated ourselves to croissants to ease the pain (in her case) and the guilt (in my case).

By now, you will be asking yourself, or, if you’re like me, your computer screen, what this saga about my little sister and a disgusting insect have to do with writing. Or my depressive phase. Or being able to write more than 25 thousand words in less than a week. The answer: nothing. It really has no connection that I can see, and still, when I was back at my computer this morning, at a terribly early hour, I suddenly wanted to write on the story again. I watched fourty words grow to a hundred, a hundred to two hundred, and suddenly I was writing full out again. I spent the whole afternoon (more or less) sitting here and writing on my story, and because I’m terribly slow, I only managed 5135 words in that time, but hey, that’s more than five thousand words more than I had this morning! I’m quite proud of that.

For some reason, I now feel more determined to make it than even at the beginning of the month. Now that the odds have shifted so much against me and I need to write a minimum of 5499 words a day for four days  to just make it across the finish line, I suddenly feel more confident that I will be able to do it. It’s now a quarter to two in the morning, and I’ll be back to my story in a moment. But before that, I need to do something else, and that is dance. Yes, finally, that’s where the title of this post comes into play! I dance. The house is asleep and there is no other light anywhere than the one light behind me, lightening up my screen. I don’t care though. I’ll crank up the music on my mp3 player and get up and walk right into the middle of the living room and dance around in the dark for a couple of songs that nobody but myself will be able to hear. Because dancing helps with anything. Except maybe ticks.

on finishing something

The last few days I have been obsessed. Possibly also possessed. Anyway, that’s my excuse for failing miserably at writing one post a day.

I couldn’t think of anything else, except of my project. Ironically, that project is all about blogging, which would make the sane and normal person think that it would remind me of writing a blog post, but nope. It didn’t. I woke up in the morning, long before the alarm, with the feeling that I was wasting time, after I had dreamed about the project the whole night, grabbed my computer, worked right through the whole day without stopping except for a quick walk with the dog, went to bed with red, swollen eyes and completely exhausted around 11 pm, dreamed all night about it, woke up much too early, … I think you can guess how it continues.

Anyway, that was me the last three days.

Right now, my part is done and I’m waiting for reactions. Which leaves me suddenly feeling adrift. Even though it was so exhausting, I really enjoyed my headlong rush to finish a project I can be proud of. Waiting for the reactions from my classmates is eating me up inside and making me nervous as anything, but at the same time, I’m already looking for the next project I can dive into with the same abandon as I did with this one. That might not be so easy, because I usually have a problem: I’m a committment-phobic when it comes to my own ideas.

I’m really fabulous at starting things and quite the reverse when it comes to finishing something. Fantastic ideas always come to me, and I never see them through. So right now, I want to take a quick look at what made this project different. What made me see it through to the point where it’s actually out in the world and depending on other people to carry it further.

  • First, I had a vision. But then, I also sat down and turned the vision into a real, do-able goal. I thought about the details and the nitty-gritty, instead of just the glory of the finished product. I drew plans, made notes, researched stuff.
  • I started doing something, even though I knew it wouldn’t be perfect. I knew I would have to revise and, quite possibly, completely rework it later on. Still, I did it. I did it, because I needed to show the people I wanted to work with (my classmates) something concrete, instead of just talking about it all the time. I needed something to work with, even if I would have to change every single thing about it in the process.
  • I filled dozens of papers with notes. I wrote down every single tasks I had to do, be it ever so small, and I did not let myself get up until I had completed all the tasks there were. I stayed in my chair and kept the fingers on the keyboard, or the mouse. Actually, it wasn’t really a chore – I didn’t want to stop. But I didn’t want to stop because I could see it moving forward and progressing.

Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. It’s what everyone always tells me. It’s what everybody is being told all the time. It’s what all mentors, all handbooks, all guides say: Set achievable goals. Work out what you have to do to get there. Sit down and do it. Don’t stop until you’re there.

I guess all those people who have given me advice… they were right after all.