Do You Journal?


Last summer I tried to pick up journalling again.

It’s something I’ve done since childhood, but after I started blogging in 2005, I put more of my thoughts here than in a private little book.

Journalling allows me to be more raw; I can let the crazy out and not worry about lasting implications on the internet.

But even in that freedom, I still feel stuck.

Which brings me to you.

Do you journal? With paper and pen or an online app? Do you freeform your thoughts or follow a structure?

If you care to share, I’d love to hear from you.

Friday Link Love

LOVED this quick snippet on writing from Jen Fulwiler on Conversion Diary:

Fellow writing nerds, listen up! I’ve stumbled upon something really interesting that you’re going to enjoy pondering: The critical importance of theme. The way I’ve come to see it, the theme of a story is the underlying element of it that transcends the individual events and touches on the universal human experience. Especially in memoir, it’s what takes your story from forgettable navel-gazing to an expansive story with wide appeal. For example:

  • Scene 1 (no theme): Dude writes about eating a tomato.
  • Scene 2 (with theme): Dude writes about eating a tomato. He explains that he grew it in his farm’s garden, and that this is an heirloom variety that would have been eaten by the farm’s original owners back in 1812. It is the evening of his 40th birthday, and he reflects on the fact that all the people who enjoyed these same tastes back in the nineteenth century are now gone, and that his own life won’t last forever. As he savors the textures and flavors and aromas of the tomato, he resolves to make the most of each day from here forward.

That’s an example from the memoir The Bucolic Plague by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Scene 1 is how he could have written it, which would have been uninteresting; Scene 2 is how he did write it. The themes of “man reflecting on his mortality” and “the importance of savoring simple moments” animated the chapter, and elevated it from a self-centered journal entry to a moving glimpse of the universal human experience.

Fellow writers, heed my example and save yourself a lot of work: A large part of the reason that I am re-writing my book for the third time is that I had not nailed the theme the first two times around. I had not chosen one universal aspect of my experience that I would use to drive the main storyline, and the result was that I could never figure out why it kept feeling kind of flat.

On Working Alone.

Lately I’ve been experiencing a creative conundrum.

You see, I have it made. I’m one of the lucky ones. And no, I’m not talking about my hair. It’s amazing, to be sure, and the world is generally very jealous of my thick and gorgeous mane, but I am talking about my lifestyle.

It’s amazing that I get to write for a living. It’s amazing that I get to work from home. During school hours. And that I don’t have ongoing expensive day care costs. This luxury is not lost on me, and from a working parent’s perspective, this is a perfect arrangement.

But it also means I work alone, which can be lonely. And uninspiring. And depressing. And did I mention lonely?

Amazing things happen when I’m in the same room as my creative team. The creative process is sometimes internal, but most of our best ideas happen in collaboration, and most of the time that collaboration is ambient, meaning it happens organically as we’re crossing paths in the hallway and not necessarily during a scheduled brainstorming session.

The watercooler conversations, if you will.

Anyway, back to the conundrum.

I like that I’m in control of my schedule, that I can be highly productive in my pajamas and use my laundry cycles as an excuse to stretch my legs and take a break (it’s better than smoking!). I like that I can be a “working mom” without compromising my affinity for being a “stay at home” mom.

But I hate that it sucks the creative life out of me to work alone.

I’m certain there’s at least a handful of solutions to my conundrum, but I can’t think of one that doesn’t involve compromise – either by me, my family, or my team.

Really, I just want to have it all. Even more all than I already have, apparently.

Things I Have In Common With Don Draper

These are some of the things I accomplished during the last hour:

  • rearranged the icons on my iPhone
  • sorted and renamed my Google Reader feeds
  • added a few bookmarklets to my bookmarks bar
  • explored Pinterest
  • cleaned my desk
  • listened to the same song on repeat

This may not seem like much, but I consider it a fairly good hour’s work when facing a creative deadline.

Bryan and I started watching Mad Men on Netflix streaming this weekend, and I love watching the subtleties of Don Draper’s creative process play out during each episode. It seems – and I would agree with this – the creator never really stops creating. Whether engaging with family, reading the paper, or making love, there is a distracting thought spinning in the back of our minds, connecting everything we’re experiencing to the idea that’s been nagging at us.

And it’s maddening to get stuck in a tip-of-the-tongue suspension state, like wracking my brain trying to remember That Guy’s name and it’s just not coming to me.

Running sometimes knocks the ideas loose. So does rearranging the icons on my iPhone. Wasting time is not always wasted time.

One scene of Mad Men opened with Draper sitting in his office, smoking, staring at the wall in a haze of dim light. His boss walked in, hesitated, then said, “I still can’t get used to the fact you’re actually working when you do that.”

Yes, the creator must have space to mull it over, to let it sit, to knock it around a bit. It may not look like we’re working, but trust me… we are.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go for a walk.

Christ, with six eyes, four beards, & a flannel shirt.

A Portrait of Christ from Jeremy Cowart on Vimeo.

This video is around 6 minutes long, but watching it is well worth the time if you have even a jigger of appreciation for art.

It’s pretty crazy how I stumbled into writing and producing animated web videos, because while I’m a great writer*, I don’t know a lot about how the animations are actually, well, animated. I should say, I know generally how they’re made, but I don’t know the specific strokes and clicks.

So even though the medium is different from what I create, it was jaw-dropping to see it all come together.

p.s. I found the video via Don Miller’s blog.

*Don’t you love how I stuck that in there so nonchalantly?

Not Everything Is Bloggable

I’m not really sure what I was thinking, signing up for this @postaday thing. While I like writing and feel compelled to do it, I don’t want it taking precedence over things like…I don’t know…sleep.

I also don’t want to fill my blog with a bunch of content that’s not really even blogworthy.

I often tell my kids they talk too much, and that what comes out of their mouths is foolishness. Yada yada yada is what I hear, but none of it means anything. Don’t open your mouth unless you have something to say of value, I tell them.

But they lack self control.

So to avoid sounding like an eight year old, I’ll make a deal with you.

(Well, I’ll make a deal with myself, actually, since I would write in this space even if you weren’t here to read it.)

The deal is, I promise to write more, but I won’t post if it’s not bloggable.

The Daily Post

This is Thomas. I believe I had asked him to put the laundry basket back into his room, and he spent about 20 minutes crying about how that was so hard. Or something. After awhile I start tuning out his drama, but I guarantee you it was less about it being hard than it was about it not being his idea.

I should note that his room is just across the hallway there, about three feet in front of the basket.

This may come as shocking news to you given that I posted only ONCE in December, but I’m going to give the WordPress Daily Post thing a shot.

It’s true that I have a few things going on these days, and I have a highly creative job that tends to drain my creative energy, but I still love to write, and I still have things to write about.

It’s become far too easy to ignore my blog lately. I fear the longer I ignore it the harder it will be to jump back in, and I’ll end up whining like Thomas about something that’s so easy and right in front of me.

So into the deep end I jump.

To keep it simple, I’ll use photos as a writing prompt.

The Mom and The Mogul: a new kind of job offer


I bet you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, lately, amiright?

You may recall I did an Ignite talk in April called The Sanity Hacks of a Stay at Home Mom. I love public speaking, and aside from a breakdown or two in the preparatory stage, I had a total blast doing it.

Who knew that six months later I’d have a new blog in the Cheezburger Empire?

Yeah, the back story is definitely needed at this point. I agree.

So after I did my talk I sashayed up to the bar (because that’s what you do after you deliver a KILLER Ignite talk – you sashay.)

I’m standing there with my gin & tonic and a friend named Beth when a vaguely familiar face appears next to me, and this vaguely familiar face is attached to a fail blog tshirt (not this one exactly, but you get the idea).

I HEART the fail blog, and at this point I realize I’m talking to the creator of the fail blog. And at this same time I also realize I used a photo in my talk from the fail blog which I did not attribute, and I’m all, crap.

Thanks for the photo, I say, pointing my drink at him.

Yeah, he said. I wouldn’t have minded seeing the fail blog watermark on it, he says.

*jen laughs nervously*

*jen points drink at him again as if to say, good one!*

The awkward moment ends, and Mr. Fail Blog Creator starts talking to me about Mommy Blogs. On the outside I’m nodding and making eye contact and moving my mouth in such a way as to form words. But the fan girl on the inside is like, OMG THE FAIL BLOG GUY IS TALKING TO ME!

Two weeks after that night I happen to catch this tweet from Ben Huh, Mr. Fail Blog Creator:

Since I’m a compulsive twitter refresher, I saw this right after it was posted and casually responded that I’d be interested in hearing about his project. But on the inside I was all, OMG THE FAIL BLOG GUY IS TWITTERING ME.

We exchanged a couple DM’s. We had a phone meeting while I lunched in the park with my kids. I sent him some writing samples.

After a few rounds of writing samples his ideas were clarified, but I wasn’t sure it was the project for me. I was faced with the question many creatives face at some point: Do I take on a project for opportunity over love? Or do I hold out for twoo wuv?

In the end I held out for true love, and gracefully bowed out of the opportunity. Please keep me in mind for future projects, I wrote. I’d love the opportunity to work with you.

More than two months later I see this in my twitter stream:

We exchanged a couple DM’s. We had a phone meeting while I lounged at the beach with my kids. I sent him some writing samples.

This time the project was a great fit for me – WIN! And we launched the new site last week: Babysaur – So Cute, It’s Scary!

Did I mention all this happened via email and twitter? And that the only face to face conversation I had with Ben Huh was that first night at the bar? These are crazy times with these Interwebs, I tell ya.

I’m proud of this site, and having a blast. Please add it to your reader. Please follow @babysaur on twitter. Please become a Facebook fan. Please give us lots of Babysaur love!

So in a nutshell, that’s what I’m up to.

No spouses were harmed in the making of this post. Well, maybe just one.

At some point during every major project I take on, I have a nervous breakdown. It comes shortly after I’ve committed, laid my reputation on the line, and pulled on my hip-waders.

Take pregnancy, for example. Around the seven month mark is probably a little too late to panic about what kind of Mommy Dearest you may turn out to be, amiright?

Last Spring as I prepped for my Ignite Seattle talk, I spent a few dark hours yelling at my husband about what an idiot I was for getting myself into this mess. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT MY STUPID BORING LIFE, I yelled in desperation.

I was a ratty looking squirrel trapped in the bottom of a well, clawing away at the dirt walls of insecurity.

Bryan managed to talk me down off the ledge within a couple hours, bumps and bruises notwithstanding, and I went on to give a killer presentation.

Well wouldn’t you know it, but my first client as a freelance whatever-I-am purchased the fully loaded Cadillac option from my list of services, launching me headlong into the deep end of the pool ocean galaxy.

Around 10:15 tonight, after forty-five minutes of research fueled by the absolute certainty I have no fucking idea what I’m doing, I started yelling.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M EVEN LOOKING FOR! Is one example of what I started yelling. There were many other things yelled, but as is the case with most panic moments, not much is remembered. I do know that Bryan yelled back at me, and we spent a few moments trying to out-panic each other (he has his own deadlines), but in the end he sent me a magic link that made everything better.

And now I am fine. I will likely go on to produce the best work I’ve ever done in my whole life for this client, but for some reason I must pass through this creative rite of passage.

Poor Bryan. Poor, poor, Bryan. You can pray for him – he married a crazy lady.

for the book pile

As I think about a book I will one day write, I consider what form I want it to take, what shape. How specific do I want the theme to be? Is there an event or experience I can use as the backdrop for a story?

For instance, I wrote several essays about various home renovations we did several years ago that coincided with my step-father’s cancer, and I have a friend who is working on a series of personal essays that weave her life’s story through her experiences exploring the craggy shores of Puget Sound.

So I found this interview interesting, today, as I drove around running errands with Thomas. The author is Rachel Simon, and her book is “Building A Home with My Husband: A Journey through the Renovation of Love.” Here is the Publisher’s Weekly Review from Amazon:

In her second memoir (after Riding the Bus with My Sister), Simon writes about her relationship with her husband, Hal. The two married after 19 years together (including a breakup and reunion) and moved into Hal’s historic row house in Wilmington, Del. When the house is burglarized, the couple consider moving, but decide to renovate instead, both to save money and give Hal, an architect, the opportunity to design their abode. The decision, Simon writes, will blow open the tight seal around everything I think I know about myself, about family, about the misunderstandings and resilience of love. It makes for an intriguing narrative, punctuated by musings on everything from quitting to the definition of design to her life as a writer and public speaker. In this inspirational book, readers who have completed or are contemplating remodeling will empathize with Simon’s frustration-induced fits of pique or the couple’s rush of gratitude for a lovely home. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I look forward to reading her book, both for the story she has to tell and to see how she weaves her life’s story throughout the Everyday.

Writer’s Block

Well, I’ve been staring at this computer screen for an hour and a half – typing, then deleting, typing, deleting, typing, read twitter, delete, etc. And you know what? I’m okay with it. I don’t think I was okay with it the first fifteen minutes I sat here, but as time went on I got to thinking…

Nothing is easy all the time.

The important thing is, I set aside the time to write, and I showed up. I tried a few things to get the creative juices flowing, and it didn’t work. And? MAYBE NEXT TIME IT WILL. I find the more I stress about writer’s block, the more pressure I feel. So I’m thinking, it’s summer, the kids are almost out of school, I have a lot going on, and it will come to me when it comes to me.

Might as well take advantage of not having deadlines to freak about while I can, right?

*slaps forehead*

I haven’t read a book in over a month. And I haven’t been keeping up with your blog. And I’m trudging through Leviticus.

In related news: my creative well is dry.

I didn’t realize just HOW much I drew from what I take in, but now I know: if I’m not participating in creation, I struggle to create.

For instance, that last meaty post I wrote about suffering? It all started as a preamble to declare how much I love the band Cloud Cult, which was all I was listening to at the time.

Music inspired me to write.

So onward, I suppose, into Being Inspired!

I’d like to thank The Academy…

Ignite Seattle - April 29, 2009
Photo by Randy Stewart –

I had a great time doing The Sanity Hacks of a Stay at Home Mom at Ignite, and was so thrilled by the experience I could do it over and over again.

Thanks to Bryan for believing in me, and for convincing me that what I had to say mattered. Also? For laughing victoriously from the gut when I finally said, “You’re right, I’ll do it your way. Bullet points, it is!”

Thanks to Amanda, Katherine, and Julie for reading the first draft and giving me awesome feedback, because striking the proper tone was hugely important to me; to my IRL peeps for encouraging me, to my friend Alecia for taking my sick kid, and to the super duper fabulous Beth and Beth (yes, two friends named Beth – I actually have 3 total) for cheering me on at the event.

For the record, I do not recommend chaperoning a kindergarten class to the zoo at 8:30 the next morning, followed closely by obedience training for your dog in the late afternoon, followed by the arrival of your mother from out of town the next day.

It makes for some serious insanity that’s not so easy to hack.

A video is forthcoming. Despite the fact I sleep with the editor, I could not get him to do mine first.

Ignite Seattle or Things That Make My Bowels A Little Nervous

This week I’m busy working on my Ignite Seattle presentation called “Sanity Hacks of a Stay at Home Mom.” Mine is one of sixteen presentations of the night – the first eight have been posted here. Topics include Public Library Hacking, Knitting in Code, and The Secret Underground World of Lego.

Ignite presentations are 5 minutes long using 20 powerpoint slides that auto advance every fifteen seconds, and presenters are not allowed to use notes. ACK!

I am appropriately freaked out, particularly since the confirmation email I received indicated the King Cat Theater, where the event is held, holds up to 700 people. So when it’s over I will either be flying high on presentation adrenaline, or I will crap my pants, shut down my blog, never to be seen again as I die of embarrassment.

If you want to catch the suspense in person, here’s the info:
April 29: doors at 7, start at 8:30
King Cat Theater
21 and over.

No worries if you can’t make it live, the good Bryan Zug will be recording video for the event.

In related news, I’m off to find a babysitter!