Facing Turmoil? Write!
I don’t have to tell you that we are in the midst of a tumultuous time. The last eleven months have been anywhere from disruptive to horrendous, depending on where you live.
But depending on how old you are, this isn’t your first go-round with pandemics and political turmoil.
Today, January 18, 2021, is Martin Luther King Day.
His rise to public prominence, his famous “I Have a Dream Speech,” and his shocking assassination all took place during the 1960’s – a time of political turmoil.
Just think of the nation-shattering events that took place during that decade –
Wait, let’s narrow this down to one year: 1968.
On January 23, North Korea seized the USS Pueblo, initiating an eleven-month standoff between the US and North Korea
On January 30, the Tet Offensive was launched (part of the Vietnam War) and continued into September.
On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, sparking riots in more than one hundred cities across the country.
In April, student protests at Columbia University in New York sparked similar campus protests across the country.
On June 4, Robert Kennedy (John F. Kennedy’s brother) was shot in Los Angeles while campaigning for president.
On August 28, anti-war protests outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago turned violent, now known as the Chicago Riots.
It was a year filled with violence, division, and hatred. It was the capstone of the 60’s – a decade that changed America.
What other events shaped that decade? Sputnik, the Cuban Missile crisis, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the US involvement in the Vietnam War exploded, Woodstock happened in the midst of the 1969 “Hong Kong Flu” pandemic, Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965 sparking riots in Los Angeles that left more than thirty people dead, and John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
Is this beginning to sound familiar?
We aren’t the first generation of writers to be telling our stories in the midst of great upheaval and change – or even a pandemic.
Here is a smattering of the books that were published during the tumultuous 1960’s (there were hundreds):
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Writers write. In spite of what is going on outside their writing cave.
So, have the events of the past eleven months affected your writing life?
Have you spent days staring at your computer, feeling unable to put two words together?
Do you feel like the well of ideas has gone dry?
I’m not surprised if you said yes to every one of these!
Writing is hard (as if I have to tell you that!)
My theory (completely untested and based only on my own observations) is that our bodies and brains can only handle one major project at a time. So, while we’re being distracted by pandemics and politics, our minds are looking at our work-in-progress and saying, “I can’t handle that right now.”
What is a writer to do?
Well, we could ignore the news.
Or we could unplug from everyone or anything.
But neither of those are realistic.
Writers write, remember?
Maybe this is the time to put all that “fight or flight” energy into putting our reaction to the world’s events into our stories.
When historical romance wasn’t working for me back in April, I started writing a cozy mystery. Believe me, thinking and plotting how my bad guy is going to meet his doom (in the form of police handcuffs) is a great outlet for my 2020 emotional roller coaster!
Or when I need a break from my cozy, I go back to my historical romance. There is nothing like escaping to the Old West where the deer and the antelope play. Living in another world for a while is a great way to handle the 2020 stress.
Still don’t feel like you can write? I’m sure authors sixty years ago felt the same way.
But think of this: Where would our culture be without the books I listed above? There would never be an offer we couldn’t refuse, Scout would only exist in Harper Lee’s imagination, and Sam I Am would still be trying to get someone – anyone – to try green eggs and ham.
Where will our culture be if you never wrote the story God has laid on your heart?
The comments are open and waiting for you! Have you had trouble writing during the past year? Or has it been a year of great inspiration and productivity for you?
Where do you see your writing going in 2021?
One commenter will win an audio copy of "The Sound of Distant Thunder," book one in The Amish of Weaver's Creek series!
Concentration and Procrastination in the End Times
Another common theme is that people say they just can't focus, can't concentrate, haven't accomplished anything.
If you're feeling that way, you're not alone.
According to an article in The New Statesman:
"Since February, there has been a 300 per cent increase in people searching “how to get your brain to focus”, an 110 per cent increase in “how to focus better”, and 60 per cent rise in “how to increase focus”. People are paying for apps and services to help their concentration."
Before I go on, I just want to acknowledge that your experience of this pandemic may vary widely according to where you live and how you life has been impacted. I live in NYC which for the past three months was the country's epicenter. We've had close to 400,000 cases and over 24,000 deaths. That kind of thing plays games with your mind - literally. But we'll get to that.
Almost exactly one year ago today, I wrote a post for Seekerville called A 15 Letter Word Not Equal to Lazy. I was reminded of that post this week when I stumbled upon this article - There's a reason we procrastinate and it's not laziness.
I immediately started to read the article because the title struck a chord. I know I have a tendency to procrastinate, but it's been really bad lately. I have a book coming out in January and that seems like so very far away. But that book is done. How do I concentrate on writing a new one when I have no idea what kind of world will even exist for it to be released into? That kind of insidious thinking can be paralyzing, and it definitely fosters procrastination.
So I read the article.
As I began to read, it felt familiar. That's when I realized the person being interviewed, Dr. Pychyl, was the same man I'd read about when writing that Seekerville post a year ago. This man has made the study of procrastination his life's work. He has spent twenty years studying it and leads a procrastination research group at Carleton University. He has a book called Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change.
This article was focused on how the pandemic has affected us.
"We are in a time when uncertainty, worry and anxiety are dominating us emotionally. We are inevitably going to end up delaying things, but if we only have one word for that delay, which is procrastination, we end up beating ourselves up for it." He goes on to disagree, saying, "I would argue that yes, many things are being delayed, but we need a lot of self-compassion right now. We don't need to impugn ourselves with this notion of procrastination."
Indeed, according to research Dr. Amy Arnsten, a Professor of Neuroscience and a Professor of Psychology at Yale University, our inability to focus is actually a biological response to stress.
This is where I got really interested and went all Science Geeky. Apparently it goes back to our prehistoric survival days. I highly recommend you read the whole article, but I'll summarize her main point. The pre-frontal cortex of our brain is where we do all our critical thinking, control impulses, and ... focus. But the pre-frontal cortex is also programmed to weaken under stress so our primitive survival instincts take over.
"So essentially, when faced with immediate physical danger, your prefrontal cortex shuts down to make way for the more primitive parts of your brain – the parts that can respond quickly and basically in order to protect you."
And that's exactly where we are now, and why concentrating is so difficult.
"Arnsten says there are three major factors that make Covid-19 particularly potent for cutting off our prefrontal cortex: its invisibility; the lack of individual control we have over it; and being forced to go against our normal habits in order to protect ourselves."
So what do we do? We can't just give up and wait til someone comes up with a vaccine or a cure.
Dr. Pychyl's answer is very simple - just start. But start small.
"Here's the magic — the next time you face a task that your whole body is screaming, "I don't want to, I don't feel like it," ask yourself: what's the next action? What's the next action I'd need to take to make some progress? Don't break the whole task down. That will be sure to overwhelm you. I think if most of us broke our whole task down, we'd realize that life's too short, you can never get it all done. Instead just say, "What's the next action?" and keep that action as small and as concrete as possible."
Dr. Arnsten suggests you cut yourself some slack and feel reassured that this is a perfectly normal reaction and at some point it will get better. “I think that’s really helpful to have that kind of perspective and gain that sense of control,” she says.
So let's talk. Does it help you to know that you're not alone and that there is a perfectly reasonable biological explanation?
How are you coping?
Prayer helps. Some people do mindfulness or meditation. My daughter has taken up yoga.
For me, I'm trying the combination approach - starting with prayer, and then getting started - with the understanding that it may be tough, but if I do something I'll feel better than if I just waste away time. I was reminded recently about the Biblical admonitions against sloth. I'll take that to heart too - no time for idle hands.
But perhaps the best reward, because we are writers, is that our story world can take us away. There, we are in control. There we make the decisions; we have the power.
And that may give the affirmation we so desperately need.
So, go write today! And let's hear how it worked for you.
But if you''re procrastinating and are willing to hang around, let's chat. Let's talk about your experiences, and let's try to work our way back to productivity.
A New Season, Authors....
But with the end of the threat of snow (I am not even kidding, people!!!) and the abundance of possible sunshine, comes a lot of change for us here on the farm and for most folks who try to cram a year of family get togethers and gatherings and fun times into the 16 mostly nice weekends coming up, weekends filled with First Communions, graduations, weddings, baby showers, wedding showers, family reunions, family weekends at the beach or in the mountains or gosh... anywhere.
But maybe not this year.
Maybe not this season.
The recent scourge of a pandemic has changed our mental, emotional and physical landscapes. It's put a hard stop on getting together, having parties, meeting for lunch, even gathering for picnics because here in New York the state has tipped all picnic tables on end so that there's no place to sit.
Playgrounds have been roped off in many areas.
Kids have been distance learning and threats of a changed future seem like a chapter out of a futuristic novel but it's not a novel... it's today's reality.
There are no sports. No baseball, soccer, basketball, lacrosse. No MLB, NBA, PGA... and Nascar just held its first races of the season, allowing no fans.
But for all of this, there is a growing unrest among the people, a growing surge of re-taking control of our choices, our lives, our freedoms, and for you writers, these are the emotions that spur plots, that build characters. You are living in a story-rich moment... but it is several months long already, and that's why people are beginning to rise up to grab hold of the freedoms we hold dear... while mourning the tens of thousands whose lives have been lost to a new virus, an insidious illness that's been unleashed on the world, a world caught maybe in a state of complacence? And the virus became a wake-up call for so many, but also a launch pad for story ideas at every level.
In a stirring quote to the Second Continental Congress as they debated waging war against Great Britain to create the country we now know as the United States of America, Ben Franklin said: "Those who would give up essential freedom for temporary safety deserve neither freedom nor safety."
This is an important time in history, we're living in the pages of a history book, and no one knows the ending or even the next chapter, but we've all heard the life-coach advisory: Anything you do for 30 days becomes a habit.
And that's the warning knell for freedom lovers, because the erosion of freedoms rarely comes like a swift hammer, but more as a creekside erosion.
Here at the farm we're working hard to create new things, to get our fall crops planted and I'm busily writing new stories and taking care of business... with a mask in public! Because no one wants to make other people sick or get sick themselves, but I'm blessed to live in the country, surrounded by wide open spaces and the ability to re-design how we do our fall displays to spread folks out because none of us know what autumn will bring, but I promise you one thing:
On our farm it will bring pumpkins and gourds and sunflowers and mums and a couple of acres of beautiful things produced by hard-working hands, produced with love and affection for our customers, our neighbors and our community and our country.
A country that should never take freedom for granted, but on this week, the day after Memorial Day, to realize that we are part of the greatest country in the world, and are so blessed to be here.
May God continue to bless America.
ruthloganherne.com, email her at email@example.com or swing by Seekerville or visit Ruthy and other delightful Seekers at the Yankee Belle Cafe, a lifestyle fun, cooking blog!
10 Ways to Conquer Fear with Focus & Faith
It infects people more readily.
It lurks in the throat and nose without causing symptoms for days, widening the spread.
It has "sneak attack" features that allow a person to carry it, unknown to them.
It loves crowded rooms, funerals and gatherings inside.
It targets the elderly, but isn't afraid to take its share of other folks, too... but to a far less degree.
It really likes people with co-morbidities, immune-suppressed, diabetic, lung problems, heart problems and obesity are particular favorites.
It's persistent. And it is particularly happy in overcrowded conditions, spreading quickly which made NYC a prime target.
As these things became known, the world hit "PAUSE":
We're slowly creeping toward Reset in Western New York. Because NYC became an epicenter, things in New York will move slowly. Others are able to move more quickly, and that's good because a world can't pause forever, can it? But this isn't a debate about opening/not opening.
Not my job, not my pay grade.
My job is to help writers figure out how to conquer the spinning brain, the out-of-body experiences that say you should be writing (those are correct, by the way) but you can't get your brain to cooperate. (Brains are funny things.)
This has become difficult for contracted authors. That means it might even be harder for people striving for that goal because there's no money riding on it. That's not said to be mean, it's the common sense of the situation: If your paycheck demands you write, then you write. Eventually.
So how do we conquer this? How do we set fear aside and focus on moving forward?
Faith in God and faith in ourselves. The Novel Corona Virus didn't take our talent. Nor has it taken our brains. What it's done is capture our attention, so our current task is to change the visual and contextual and get back to work.
Use it as a basis for getting back to work because not since WW2 has there been such a target-rich environment for story building from every direction, mindset, demographic, setting available.
Those choices are up to you, the author, the writer. The news abounds: pick a story and flesh it out fictionally.
And here are ten ways to re-set your personal brain:
1. Stop watching ubiquitous news coverage. Allow yourself twenty minutes/day to check news, local and/or national, then walk away until your brain is no longer mush. Mushy brains do not write good books. Heck, they don't even write good lists.
2. Do something nice for others. The busier you are being good to others, the less inclined you are to sit and think about yourself or the world condition. The world has been around for a very long time. It will continue to spin, and good things and bad things will continue to happen. Focus on others. Make things to donate, write letters of encouragement to people, bake things and drop them on doorsteps, order things to be delivered to folks who are in need. Give gift cards to cashiers and delivery people. Be kind. Be noble. Be faith-filled.
3. Go outside. Get out of the house, even on the bad weather days (tornadoes and hurricanes excepting) and walk. Ride a bike if you have one, but if you don't, take walks. It will be good for your body, cleansing for your soul, help your lungs and give you more stamina if you do get sick.
4. Avoid social media. If your brain is spinning, social media is the last place you should be with the constant arguments about this, that and the other thing. One thing about crises that's held true through millennia: There are bad people who will take advantage to their own ends/power/finances and good people who will keep things going. Today is no different, it's just your new normal. Use it as a history lesson.
5. The Serenity Prayer. A beautiful, simplistic way of re-organizing your brain to focus on what can be helped, changed, and your opportunity to do it... or to bide your time, pray and know that God is listening.
6. Write. Make yourself sit down, get that butt into a chair and those hands on the keyboard and let your brain immerse in something fun... or in something earth-shattering if that's the way your brain works. Some authors do well in the crush of the moment, bringing tragedy to the page as it whirls around them. Others want rainbows and Kermit-the-Frog and reassurance of sweet romance or fairy tales. BOTH ARE WONDERFUL. And both can be blessedly therapeutic.
7. Make a decision about what is ruling your life: Fear or Focus. No matter what kind of person you are, introvert or extrovert, fussy or calm, Type A, B or whatever... your personal choice has a huge effect on your actions. Choose to move forward. Standing still gets us nowhere. This doesn't mean you have to rejoin the dance in the public square. It means you're actively engaging your brain to allocate a "And This Too Shall Pass" mindset to the current situation and letting it play out while you get things done. They don't have to be big things: But they do have to be something.
8. How badly do you want to be a writer? Sometimes the test isn't in the circumstances, but in the person. Another decision to make, because writing is a job like any other, and there's only so much leeway. Publishers don't make money if they don't produce books, and sometimes we write under great pressure, internal and external. There are only so many "Get Out of Jail (Deadline) Free" cards issued. Something to consider because self-discipline is key to a successful career, or even a shot at a career at all.
9. Breathe deeply. That sounds silly, right? It's not. Taking that deep, cleansing breath through your nose... holding it to expand your lungs... then doing a slow, controlled release helps us to feel in charge and it helps strengthen our lungs, two important factors in fighting this virus and the blues. Take those deep breaths... hold 'em a bit... and then let them go slowly. It's a metaphor for taking charge of your life by taking charge of your lungs, your air, your breathing patterns.
10. Pray. Give your life, your fear, your joy, your anxiety, your acceptance, your praise over to God. If you're not a believer, this is the best time to change that status, darlings! And if you are, then remember that God is here, with us, Emmanuel. The blessing of the Holy Spirit dwells within us. We are not abandoned. We are never alone. We are His... and as His creations we were formed in an image and likeness that offers us the strength to tackle whatever comes our way. Pray... and use His shoulder to lean on. Let Him carry you, but that doesn't mean you should slack off because then the spin starts all over again and darlings... no one has time for that.
Be well. Be kind. Be safe. And remember that while we may embrace different opinions as things move forward, your normal isn't someone else's normal and that's an important distinction.
I've got a $20.20 Amazon gift card to give away today, but not for you... if you win it, I want you to give it to someone in need, okay? I'm not going to check up on you... If you really need it, well, go ahead and use it, my friend!
THIS JUST IN!!! An anonymous author has just donated a second $20.20 gift card for a second winner to share! You guys are the best! Now we'll be giving away two gift cards for folks to share with others, just a little way to share the love....
firstname.lastname@example.org, visit her website ruthloganherne.com, friend her on Facebook where she loves to chat the antics of family, kids, critters and life on a pumpkin farm.