Posts tagged novels
A balloon slowly twirls in the corner of my room in the ICU. “Get Well Soon!” it proclaims, in its bubbly font pastered on a backdrop of a smiling kite floating above smiling flowers.
I am grateful to have it cheering up the overwise sterile and dull place I’ve called my home-away-from-home five times in the last year alone. I am grateful to my thoughtful friend who brought it when she visited several days ago. But the truth is life doesn’t fit neatly into phrases we so often use to comfort our loved ones when a major life trial afflicts them. For me, “Get Well Soon” is a lie. I won’t be well soon. Yes, I’ll recover from this hospitalization, but I live with several serious chronic illnesses that will most likely sent me back to the hospital again. When “getting well soon” isn’t possible, the challenge is to find insight, peace, and even gratitude in my situation.
I firmly believe that we are faced with trials on this earth, so that we can learn lessons we couldn’t learn any other way. Through my illness I’ve learned patience, compassion for other’s trials, and trust that my suffering is all for a purpose and even brings blessings. Nothing would have taught me patience, for example, quite like waiting through seemingly endless and prolonged hospitalizations. I couldn’t have learned to have as much compassion, had I not suffered myself and felt the pain and loneliess of chronic illness.
I have even found blessings in my trials with chronic illness. As I was forced to adapt and find new interests, I discovered my passion for writing novels, my love of web and graphic design, and, most importantly, my faith in Christ when I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. All these things came to be in my life directly as a result of my chronic illnesses. They have blessed me in more ways than I can number, and especially blessed me with a sense of a life calling, purpose, and knowledge that I am not alone. Realizing these blessings give me insight into the person my trials are helping me to become, a person I couldn’t have learned to be without these trials.
Knowing that trials have brought me great blessings fills my life with peace, purpose, and meaning. And I am grateful for the role of trials in my life to make me a better person. I am grateful for the ability to bless the lives of others that I learned from these trials. I am grateful for my testimony of a loving Heavenly Father and Savior, Jesus Christ, that I’ve learned from experiences I’ve had being sick.
As I look to the bigger picture, I see the role these trials play in becoming the best person I ultimately can be. I may not “Get Well Soon”, but as I look beneath the harsh surface of life with multiple serious chronic illnesses, I’ve come to recognize that, on many levels, things are already “well” with my life. And as I strive to find insight, peace, and gratitude in the face of my trials, all will be well.
Since I was five years old, barely sophisticated enough to write a few words into sentences, I have been captivated by poetry. Poems just seemed to come to me as if I had plucked them right out of thin air and was merely the recorder of the words that would pour through me. It hasn’t been that way lately though. As my focus has moved on to my two novels, I haven’t tried to write a poem with any semblance of a rhyme scheme in quite some time. I’ve been feeling rather out of practice.
However, today was my church’s Ward Conference, a day of spiritual nourishment. It was just wonderful listening to my local leaders speak to us young adults on the topics that were of the greatest importance to us. Feeling more spiritually fed, and pondering some of the themes discussed today, I decided to try my hand at a poem. The following is the result:
The void left by burning desire;
At times nearly extinguished inside;
All but lost the inertia required;
To move and be moved to His side;
But then I close my eyes tight,
And pray with all my might;
All I am, was, and will be,
I am through Him, now I see;
And my covenant burns bright;
The unquenchable light inside;
My hope, my comfort, my insight;
To move and be moved to His side.
I consider myself a very productive person. I get a lot of things done. I’ve accomplished quite a bit. I’ve written two novels, designed many websites, worked on Alternate Reality Games for organizations like the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and The World Bank, maintain an active social, family, and most importantly spiritual life. I take care of my health with doctor’s and therapy appointments, meet weekly with my writing group, craft excessively, serve in multiple church callings, and blog now and then. My plate is overflowing, so let’s just say I’m up to some big things! However, to date, I’ve managed to do all this without any significant structured planning of my time on a day to day basis. Maybe you’ll find it impressive that I’ve gone so long without any sort of a schedule or plan, just doing what seem right in the moment, as it occurs to me. That’s code for “whatever task is stressing me out the most that second”.
Enough is enough.
I decided it’s time to try Getting Things Done in a more organized way. Conveniently for me, Getting Things Done or GTD, as it’s often referred to by its adherents, is a system for just what its name implies – getting things done. It was created by David Allen, and there’re plenty of resources in other locations where you can learn more about GTD. But for a quick overview, check out this infographic:
Once I learned about this system, and with some help and advice from others, I decided to focus on creating a schedule for myself based on GTD. The idea being I would now have set “Bucket Times” to manage all the areas on my life according to the principals of GTD. But I’ll get back to Bucket Times later.
The main problem I was facing with finding a system that would work with me was finding something I could stick with. In the past systems either were so cumbersome, scheduling and planning me so rigidly that I couldn’t realistically do it long term. Or on the other hand, the systems were so vague and abstract, focusing only on broad goals that they didn’t help me commit to anything. The third category of problem systems were ones that were incomplete, only addressing certain aspects of what I needed from an organization system and leaving me feeling semi-organized but ultimately even more overwhelmed. Why? Because now I knew exactly what I needed to do but had no structures in place to help me accomplish any of it.
To address of this, I there are 4 major components to my personalized GTD system I am putting into place initially. (This is just to get started. After these are going well I will add more.)
- Identify 6-9 Major Areas of Life
- Roles and areas are the major categories of your life such as Family, School, Faith, Friends, Work, Writing etc.
- List 10 Most Pressing Tasks Under Each Major Role/Area
- Most pressing tasks are tasks that currently need to be taken for that area. For example, for Family, it might be something like “Spend time with Mom” or “Game Night.” For Work, it might be “Sign the Parsons contract” or “Return Sonya’s phone call.” Any task that has more than two steps is called a Project.
- Create A Weekly Schedule of Bucket Times To Stick To Each Week
- Bucket Times are blocks of time designated at the same time every week for completing tasks in each of your Major Areas. For example, I created Spiritual Time every evening from 10pm – 11pm. During those times I will refer to my List of Tasks for that Area of Life for to do items to complete. See the Downloads Section at the bottom of this post for an Excel template tool to help with this!
- Generate Mind-Dump Of EVERY Open Loop In Life
- Open loops are thought processes that are incomplete. They keep the mind’s inbox full when it’s most productive empty. Empty that inbox by downloading everything in it! Generate a complete list of everything, every to do, action item, task, someday task, maybe task, goal, dream ,wish, hope, plan, etc. Include everything from “Remember to pick up the milk” to “Improve relationship with Dad” to “Travel the world”. Get that mind completely empty and onto something tangible and permanent that is workable for future reference.
Once I had a plan of action, it was just a matter of putting it into place…
Starting is always easier said than done.
I needed some help getting started. So I decided to enroll someone else to do this thing with me. No, not all of you readers! My dear writing buddy who I create my day with every morning. I told her all about his idea and explained GTD to her (the Cliff Notes version). She was on board.
Over Skype, we came up with our Major Areas of Life. This is mine:
Next I began to list my lost pressing tasks under each area. I’m constantly working on my list.
Then I created a schedule by which I would process the list of tasks. But instead of a rigid list of strictly scheduled times like ones that hadn’t worked for me in the past, I am working with a schedule of Bucket Times. The beauty of Bucket Times is it structured enough in that it gives you a set time you are committed to making forward progress in an area of your life, but it is flexible enough that you still get to choose what is most expedient to do within that Area. Furthermore, the whole schedule isn’t so rigid that the whole thing risks being thrown off if you go over a few minutes. As I see it, if you get behind you are often still within your bucket time for that type of item. And even if you aren’t you can rest assured that you have more time scheduled for that item soon. So file add it to your Bucket Time list for later. Lastly, the overarching rule is that this isn’t a rigid system, meaning the operative work is: expediency.
When all else fails, do whatever is most expedient in the moment.
I am committed to using this new system for a trial of the next 3 months. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing an upswing in my productivity. And more importantly a decrease in my feelings of overwhelm at not knowing how to handle the overflowing plate that is my life. In this analogy, I’ve been eating off an overflowing plate for a long long time. Sure I’ve been digesting my food and getting nutrient, but lots of things haven’t been sitting well. GTD is a set of silverware – tools to help me eat my food, so that I can take small manageable bites and digest it easily and effectively. The schedule works like a restaurant menu (thanks Paul for that one!) with various selections for each category of food or area of my life. Some items or Tasks on the menu are more bland and others are the spice of life!
Give me a helping of work every weekday. Indulge in a double portion of friendship on weekends. A spicy side dish of romance if I’m so lucky! Pile it on my plate and enjoy a delicious, nutritious, and satisfying life!
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post series on Generating a Mind-Dump of All Your Open Loops coming soon! Get an email reminder when it comes out! Subscribe to the newsletter!
I hope you enjoy the Downloads below. The Weekly Schedule Templates for Microsoft Excel should be helpful tools for planning a schedule in the fashion described in this post. Please post comments with ideas for improvements, and I will do my best to make them.
In my life, I’ve found that everyday is the perfect day to make a resolution. Everyday is a perfect opportunity to commit to something that will transform my life into whatever I am determined to make it.
The key word for me is commitment. Doing what I say I will do when I say I will do it in the way it was meant to be done. This is no small feat. Days are busy and intense, and what I’m committed to often gets buried under layers of things that seem more urgent but are in reality less important.
Fear, too, can be commitment’s nemesis. Like so many people, I am afraid of change. I am sometimes afraid to commit to the very things I ultimately want. But it would be tragic to let fear of abandoning what’s not working but is comfortable determine what I am willing to commit to. So commitment takes courage. The best definition of courage goes like this: courage isn’t the absence of fear but a willingness to act in the face of fear.
So what am I committed to?
Three things immediately come to mind. Writing, health, and faith.
I call myself a writer. And writers write. It’s not hard to realize that I need to write. I have two novels I’m working on. One is a first draft and one is a second draft. I am committed to finishing them and getting them published. It’s great that I say I’m committed, but that is not enough. I need to take actions towards my commitment and be accountable for them. So over a week ago I set up a structure in my life to help me meet my commitment. I got in touch with one of the members of my weekly writing critique group and told her my commitment. I told her that I wanted to be working on my writing for 2 hours every weekday. And I asked her to be my accountability buddy in this commitment. She agreed and requested that I be the same for her. So last week, everyday at 8am we’ve checked in via Skype to talk about what we’ll be writing over the next two hours. The we’ve written until 10am at which point we’ve briefly checked in again to discuss how it went.
It has been a great experience so far. And it’s given me insight into a pattern of steps I need to take to meet my commitments. They are:
- Say it.
- Do it.
- Account for it.
“Say it” is just like it sounds. It’s declaring what I’m committed to and what actions I’m going to take to meet that commitment in a formal fashion so that it is clear what I’m committing to and what I’m going to do about it.
“Do it” means following through on those actions I committed to.
And “Account For It” means to in some way set up a structure of accountability for what I am committed to. That could be another person I ask to hold me to account or it could be something entirely different such as a reward structure for when I meet certain commitments.
So far I have a great structure in place for my writing. I’ve started to setup something similar for my health, but I’ve come up short in the “do it” and “account for it” departments. That doesn’t mean I have to beat myself up for not following through. It’s merely an opportunity to re-commit to my structure. And finally I plan to figure out some sort of structure to support my commitment to my faith.
So this year isn’t a year for New Year’s resolutions so quickly out of sight, out of mind. It’s a year of commitments. Commitments I recommit to everyday, every hour, every minute.
I share a special relationship with my mom, but it hasn’t always been that way, and it hasn’t always been easy.
Growing up I didn’t feel I was loved unconditionally by either of my parents, but especially not by my mom. It’s strange looking back at how I felt because it is so clear to me now that my mom completely adored me and doted upon me. At the time though, I took her tendency to be critical to be a reflection on me when it was really just my mom’s struggle with anxiety showing itself.
My mom worked full time when I was very young, but she would come home from work and play with me for hours before I went to bed even though she must have been exhausted. She read to me endlessly. I attribute my love of reading and creative writing to all the hours I spent curled up in her lap as she read me picture books and eventually entire novels.
I consider myself so fortunate that she always was supportive of all my creative endeavors. She praised my writing, drove me to all my theater rehearsals, and supported my decision to go to Film School.
My mom created amazing childhood memories for me from the little things like the home cooked meals we always shared to the family vacations we took. We drove up the coast of California over two weeks, went to places like Mexico, New York, Hawaii, and Canada. Every trip was a success because of my mom’s gift for planning.
I admire her other gifts as well. She is an accomplished architect and an amazing crafter. She paints, knits, crochets, and sews. She painted me the most spectacular secretary desk. It is one of my most favorite treasures.
Most of all I admire my mom’s strength and perseverance. When my parent’s separated after over 25 years of marriage, she went back to work for the first time since my early childhood. She also took on caring for me, her chronically ill daughter, both physically and financially.
I cannot count the hours she’s spent being there for me through the hospitalizations and other aspects of my illness. It was rough on our relationship at first. I had been a fiercely independent person and had a difficult time accepting help from her graciously. She wasn’t used to giving up her freedom to be there for me constantly. But in the end it brought us closer together as we grew to really value each others company and spending time together in every context.
I am so blessed and grateful for my mom! I only hope that someday I can be as wonderful a mom to my children as she has been to me.
I often get asked where my ideas for my stories come from. I never feel like I can adequately answer this question. In fact, I find the whole question frustrating. I want to shake the person who asked me and yell at them, “Look around! There are ideas EVERYWHERE! The real question you should be asking is where do ideas NOT come from!”
And it’s really true. If you view the world in the right way there’s ideas for stories everywhere you look. Now I’ll admit they might not all be fantastic ideas that will make best selling novels, but they are there none the less. For instance, sometimes while waiting in line at the grocery check out I’ll make up a story about the person ahead of me based on what they have in their basket. If the guy ahead of me has cheese, garlic, and mouth wash, I might make up a story about a guy with a pet mouse who is secretly afraid that his upstairs neighbors are vampires, so he consumes lots of garlic to make his blood less appetizing and uses mouth wash to keep his girlfriend from finding out his fear and telling him he’s being ridiculous. Hmm… I might have to write this story now.
My point is that there’s no lack of ideas in the world. Life itself is full of drama and conflict. The essence of a good story. I often look into my own life for ideas for stories because I really believe you should write what you know just not necessarily in a literal way. I write a lot of fantasy and science fiction, so obviously the plot of those stories aren’t directly drawn from my own life, but the characters emotional experiences are. I know what it feels like to be deeply hurt, so I can write about a character going through that in any crazy context and it will still be authentic.
But the bottom line is, I don’t really know how I think of my ideas. I really mostly just feel like they fall into my head from nowhere and I’m just fortunate enough to be around to write these ideas down.
Lastly, I thought I’d share with you a writing exercise I did in my writing group last month. The prompt was simply to write about a character that was invisible for 20 minutes. This is what I came up with on the fly. I didn’t take any time to plan it out before I just started writing. I challenge you to do the same, and if you are up for it, post what you come up with in the comments!
by Lauren Soffer
Jen tried to slam the door shut, but it bounced open like it had hit something. That was not the first odd thing that day. Earlier in the fish market she kept feeling like there was someone standing right behind her. She was even sure she had imagined the feel of hot breath on the back of her neck. She had whipped around to look, but no one was there. On the way home she kept thinking she heard footsteps following her as she walked back to her apartment. She kept glancing back at the empty street.
Now the door had bounced open. She walked back to the door and shut it slowly and deliberately. Jen had prickles on the back of her neck like she was being watched again. The feeling was becoming familiar and she didn’t like it. The feeling had started the day her boyfriend Dave had vanished last week.
She had woken up that morning and he wasn’t laying next to her like he always was. That was odd in itself because he normally slept long past when she did. She thought he must have just left the bed because there was still a depression when his body had been. But when she began to look around the apartment for him he was no where to be found. However, his keys and wallet were still sitting on the table where he had left them the night before.
When his work called to ask where he was, she began to worry and called the police. When they finally agreed to let her file a missing person report after 24 hours they wanted to know if anything unusual had happened before he had disappeared.
She wondered if she should have told them about their fight the night before. The one where she complained about how he never stood up for himself at work or anywhere. How he was so quiet it was creepy sometimes. How it was like living with an invisible man.
“I’ll show you what it’s like to live with an invisible man,” he had said.
Jen had just laughed. What an odd thing to say. She didn’t mention that to the police. They would have laughed at her if they knew what she was beginning to suspect. That Dave wasn’t missing at all. That he was right there all the time. Just invisible.