Tag Archives: writing

Post-secondary students and composition

I’m an editor, so maybe I have an unfair advantage. But I keep having these mind-boggling experiences when asked to edit a paper written by a post-secondary student.

Years ago I considered going back to university to pursue something for the sake of learning rather than to train for a job. I talked myself out of it at the time because I thought, after so many years out of the education world, I’d be off my game. And so the idea died on the table.

But it has stuck around. Perhaps it only fell to the floor and did not get swept away entirely, so each time I get up from the table, I trip over it and have to think of it again.

And then I edit another paper for a post-secondary student and I’m reminded that if I thought I was off my game after years in the working world and away from academia, then what are these students?

Is it that the education received before post-secondary is so poor? Is the school system really failing us?

Employers have been complaining for years that every year’s new crop of graduates are not qualified for work. And some industries are scrambling for viable candidates where there are none.

So what am I waiting for? I’m no genius, but it appears that I may have a fighting chance.

(Also, apparently, short-form texting is hurting our ability to communicate in full, written sentences. Shudder.)

Do you have to be special to start?

I often wonder if people who write books about getting their life in order are special people to begin with. Some of them are, no doubt, special. But what I want to know is did they start out like me? A nobody. A scatterbrained overachieving mom, a wife, a mother, an employee. Or were they already reaching for the starts as a kid?

Reading the bio blurbs of authors on Goodreads or author websites, they all seem to start with the same, “So and so has been writing and reading since she was young enough to recognize letters…blah blah blah.” That’s me. I’ve been writing stories in my head and on paper forever. The biggest complaint my teachers had was that I was always reading and they could never get me to pay attention to anything outside the book in front of my nose. (Not a bad complaint about your kid if you ask me, but my parents hated that I read all the time.)

But if most writers start out the same, why do some go all the way and some (like me) never move past their daily journal or pages upon pages of story ideas?

Sure, there’s plenty of research and theories out there about goal setting and what to do to get your book written or project accomplished or whatever your thing is. It feels like I’ve read all of them. Putting them into action…well, that’s another thing.

So my burning questions is: Do people who put the theories into practice start from a different place? Are they wired differently? Are they “better” people? Or are there slobs out there; lazy, procrastinating slobs, who hate themselves for not reaching their goals sooner, or for not setting goals and plans in the first place who actually get off their behinds and accomplish said goals? Is there a turning point for those people? A rock bottom from which they bounce? (I can’t imagine a bounce off a rock bottom is too pleasant. Sounds more like something that would make me curl up into a ball and categorize as a nice new low in which to get comfortable.) A major turning point that doesn’t let them turn back like a fork in a mountain road right when the road behind them collapses in a rock slide?

Maybe a little experiment is in order.

Stuck in the house

Day 4 of…what are we calling this?

The kids went to the park with a friend for several hours yesterday. It’s good that they’re getting outside. I was able to get some work done and they didn’t end up watching too much TV.

I didn’t start with Day 1, but here’s a quick rundown:

  • Monday of March Break (Day 1): everyone in the house (basically me and the kids), are gearing up for working from home indefinitely (me), scheduled hockey and soccer games in the schoolyard for anyone who wants to join (the kids), planning and organizing educational activities to do with my kids and some of their friends over the next few weeks, also trading time with other parents so we can all get work done and our kids can all be engaged.
  • Tuesday of March Break (Day 2): scheduled hockey and soccer games with the neighbourhood kids are canceled. Most of the neighbourhood kids are now staying inside or playing in their own backyards. But, with strict instructions to keep their hands off their faces and to wash their hands the minute they walk in the house, I’m still sending my kids out to the park with one friend each (minimizing contact with large groups is the objective, I guess). Also, I told their grandparents that helping me by taking the kids for a day is not an option right now because kids are vectors and my parents are in the high-risk group. As time passes, I may let up on that rule if my kids aren’t sick and I start to go crazy trying to keep them busy and get work done.
  • Wednesday of March Break (Day 3): The kids were gone almost all day at a park with a friend and her dog. They both came home happy and smelling of fresh air. I haven’t left the house since Sunday. I’m starting to get depressed (made a plan to take a walk on Thursday and maybe go grocery shopping [I miss driving]).

And that’s where we are. I’ve spoken to some friends who are in the same boat. I keep seeing great ideas for keeping kids engaged during this time and I’ve created two folders, one digital and one physical, of things to do, but getting the kids to do anything other than just hang out at a park or watch TV is proving impossible. They’ve made their own lists of activities they can do instead of watching TV, but, like me, they are good at making plans and having intentions, but not good at following through. I’m starting to think that’s a hereditary thing. (Obviously it’s a modelling-the-right-behaviour thing, but that puts a lot of pressure on me.)

So, this is Day 4. The kids are still asleep and I’ve already done a bunch of work, and hey, I’m writing, so that’s always good. Maybe I’ll go for that walk when they wake up.

How are you doing?

Regular ol’ me, struggling daily to live with intention

I didn’t write yesterday. I intended to. I even kind of planned to. But I didn’t write. I got to the end of the day and the thought of writing consumed me for my last waking hours.

I did just say that I planned to write, but I didn’t really plan. I didn’t set a time, book an appointment with myself, get up earlier to get in some “me” time, or take a quiet moment for myself in the evening.

Instead, I worked from early in the morning. And when I took a break, I did things that were easy and distracting. (Right now, crocheting baby blankets is easy and distracting, methodically lulling me into a sense of doing something.)

But I didn’t think about what I’d write or plan what I’d write. I waited all day for inspiration to strike. I waited and read the news feeds and reports about coronavirus and shutdowns and declarations of states of emergency. I wanted that feeling like I had something to write about, that spark. But I didn’t sit down and write because when I did think of something to write, I was busy with chores, cooking dinner, wrangling my kids, washing dishes, etc., and when I finished those things, I had lost the spark. So I just waited for it to come back.

I know that to create a regular writing habit, I have to set the intention, make a plan and stick to it. I’ve read extensively on the subject; how writing regularly makes writing regularly easier. It’s the same with exercising. And I managed to create that habit last year, and I’ve stuck to it. And it’s easier now than it was when I started, and each day it gets easier, not just going down to my basement where my little home gym is, but also doing the exercises themselves. I have built stamina and strength and stability that would not have happened had I been hit or miss in my exercise schedule. So why is it so hard to do that with writing? I like writing more than I like exercising.

Time to introduce the “don’t break the chain” concept.

So, every day from today I will mark an X on the days that I write, with the intention of not breaking the chain. I believe it was Jerry Seinfeld who first said this was his method to getting more jokes written down.

I did it with my exercise routine and it worked. I also have to note here, though, that I am gentle with myself. I try my best not to break the chain, but some days are better than others. Some days I can work out at top capacity. Other days, I can barely walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes. That’s OK. I still put an X on my workout calendar. And writing will be the same. But what I want to point out and emphasize the most here is that I’m just a normal person who does not have it together, who is pretty lazy by my own definition, who procrastinates constantly, and who has almost reached middle age and, though I count myself lucky to have a good job, nice house, and a wonderful family and friends, I don’t feel that I did much to put those things in place.

I read often about hacking or engineering our lives, putting methods in place to be the best you, and I’m intrigued by these things. Can a regular, normal, mostly unambitious person accomplish great things? Or are there really people out there who are great to begin with and see their purpose and set their plans in motion based on their innate greatness and the rest of us are just filling up space on the planet, mostly happy, making the lives of our loved ones better even though we’re not great? Can we be great? Can we apply those methods so often written about to our lives and make our lives great? What does that look like?

What do you think?

Getting a grip in times of uncertainty

I’ve been writing in my head a lot lately. Staying away from the keyboard except to do paid work. And it’s wearing on me.

Stressing and worrying about the current COVID-19 situation, anxiety ridden about whether enough people are taking it seriously enough, fretting about emergency preparedness in case it gets real bad real quick…this is what’s consuming me.

My employer is taking it seriously; those of us who can have been directed to work from home indefinitely. I feel for those who can’t. More should be done for them.

In the last few days, I’ve experienced support, paranoia, kindness, anger, the whole gamut of human emotion and reaction. It has been scary, but it has re-affirmed some things for me.

  1. We can only do what we can do. If you suffer from anxiety, like I do, and you have ways of dealing with it under normal circumstances, don’t abandon your methods just because circumstances have ramped up. We can’t necessarily change what’s going on around us, but we can keep taking care of ourselves. Keep doing what you do to manage your anxiety. Here’s a list of some things I do: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety/treatments-for-anxiety/anxiety-management-strategies. Also, I’m going to start doing this today: Ten Percent Happier Live and maybe this, too, if I can fit it in: The Consciousness Explorers Club Sitting with Pandemic Panic.
  2. Let creativity soothe you. When I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed with what’s going on in the world, I feel better if I write about it. Sometimes that’s here on the blog, sometimes that’s in my journal, sometimes it’s on a random piece of blank paper or even in my head. When I don’t write, the anxiety builds up in my head until the floodgates break and I go a bit crazy with panic. I also paint, craft, crochet, doodle, bake, cook, etc., anything that forces me to think about the task at hand instead of the scary world for a little bit.
  3. Find someone else to help. If I’m having a hard time helping myself and I can’t get out of my own way, I take a deep breath and look around for someone else who may be suffering more, then I offer to help them. This often puts things into perspective, but it also drives home the point that human connection in these times (though not really close human connection, because coronavirus) is important, and helping each other is important. And when I finish helping, I feel a little less alone and worried about bad things.

I’m using this pandemic panic feeling to exercise my creativity and get the anxiety out of my head and onto a screen because, of everything I do, that’s the thing that helps the most. I’m going to beat back the anxiety with creativity.

What are you doing?

Spitelien memory wipe device

What was that thought?

I was working out and listening to Neil Pasricha’s podcast, 3 Books, and I had this great idea about something I wanted to write. Then I walked though a doorway to come back upstairs after I finished working out and the idea was wiped from my mind…completely.

I’m more fully convinced now than I ever was that doorways contain a secret device installed by some alien species in almost every home on the planet that extracts thoughts and memories from the human mind as we walk through them.

The strongest memory wiping device in my house is the bathroom doorway. There is nothing I can think in that room that makes it out alive in my head. It’s wiped from memory the minute I step out of the bathroom. Just gone. No trace or hint of any thought I might have had while in that room.

I’ve tried keeping a notepad on the bathroom counter. I’ve tried saying my thoughts out loud so that they have a better chance of sticking. Doesn’t matter. The thought never survives the Spitelien (spy-tee-lee-en) memory wiping device installed in the bathroom door frame.

I think the Spitelien’s are interested in studying human culture, and what better way than by extracting and analyzing our thoughts and memories. Unfortunately, they haven’t devised a way to accurately return our thoughts and memories to us. Although I suspect that they have tried and, due to poor cataloguing skills, they never really know which mind the memories and thoughts came from, so they are returned in a somewhat haphazard manner. This could explain why some people claim to have memories that they don’t remember experiencing, almost as if they were re-incarnated and still contain the memories of a previous life. I have to admit that having my memories wiped and analyzed by an alien race is preferable to being abducted and probed.

Since it’s unlikely that I will recover that memory, I guess it’s on to other things.

My brain finally gave up trying to solve all my problems and passed out

With five minutes to write, how far can I get? Is there even a point to starting?

Yes. Yes, there is always a point to starting. And there should be a way to finish, a time to complete the work, do the edit, review the content. But there is never enough time.

Been stressing lately about all that is wrong with the world.

My reminders of things to do on my phone, in my notebook, on sticky notes are there and I read them, but they aren’t sticking.

I saw Bend It Like Beckham recently. Great to get out like that last minute. Didn’t buy the ticket in advance; kinda came upon it when a friend of a friend couldn’t make it to the show and the ticket became available. It was a good night out. A night downtown. I always like those. I’m grateful I got to do that. It was good to be in the city, especially at night. I feel like I burn bright at night and that light shows. Especially on cold, wet, windy nights. The streets sparkled from the lights reflecting off the decorated trees and the buildings. People were hustling and bustling even at that late time of night. The city is so alive, so electric.

Sitting in the theatre, I felt anxious about life. Scared about not having work, scared about not creating, scared about the decisions I’ve made that I can’t change, scared about having all the parenting guilt from my own kids and for me as a kid and all the ways I didn’t do right by my parents. Scared about having to figure out everyone’s emotions and intentions every time I talk to them, having to always think about where they might be coming from and how what I’m saying is being received.

I read a book on the train on the way home, not a great book so far. I find the writing confusing. Maybe I’m just tired and not concentrating well.

I couldn’t sleep when I got home. I almost didn’t come home. I almost stayed downtown, wandering around and getting lost in the lights and the shine.

My brain finally gave up trying to solve all my problems and passed out. I swear it’s like my brain treats problems like a drunk with a bottle. Taking in as much as it can and then marinating in it until it passes out. But just like looking for solutions at the bottom of a bottle has never moved anyone forward, neither will drinking in as many problems as I can and then trying to come up with a solution, trying to see the pattern in the problems. That won’t move me forward.

But writing does. I just proved it again. And I noticed something else this time. Typing works better than writing; better than pen on paper. Pen on paper is slow and deliberate and should be more helpful to process the quagmire going around in my head, but that’s precisely why it doesn’t work. It’s not fast enough. My brain moves at the speed of anxiety: fast, panting, shrieking, jittery, like a kid hopped up on Coke and candy. I need speed to plow through to a solution.

That night out was a good thing. Going out is something to be grateful for. Live in the present. Solutions will come.

Just start

Staring at a blank page is a scary thing. Lately, thinking of even opening a blank page is scary. Why is that?

Writing is hard, says the voice in my head.

What goes on inside the mind on those days (weeks, months) when nothing seems to connect? What is the mind seeking? What does the mind fear? What prevents the connections of creativity from coming together?

It is that the mind is seeking that is the problem. Stop seeking and just write.

Positive thinking is helpful. Don’t get stuck in a rut in the first place is also helpful. But what if I can’t avoid it?

What if the ideas aren’t flowing when I sit down to write? What if the fear engulfs me and I can barely breathe? What if just remembering all those techniques that I know will help is what the mind is struggling with?

What if you just start anyway?

Ha! If you can just start anyway, you’re a step ahead of me. But wait, I did just start. I’m writing right now.

So it is the negative thoughts that hold me back? If I had just thought positively about my experience of writing, if I had just let myself feel the joy I get from writing, I would have started so much earlier? Is that how it works? Nah. Too simple. I’ve been fighting this for weeks.

Develop a habit, then.

Develop a habit? Like, get up 10 minutes earlier every morning and open my notebook and take my pen in hand and put it on the page and just let the words flow out of me whatever they are?

Yes. Don’t write when you have something to say. Don’t wait for an idea or a reason to write. And don’t expect to share it or publish it. Just write because you like to write.

But what if I want to share it? What if my aim is to have a blog filled with interesting and witty pieces that others enjoy reading?

That will come.

What if it doesn’t?

Do you think not writing will give you the result you’re seeking?

No, obviously. But…

‘What ifs’ and ‘buts’ are your enemy. Name them. Invite them in and sit with them. They will reveal themselves to you as the very demons that hold you back and keep you down. You will not enjoy their company for long. When you have had enough of them, ask them politely to leave. They have no place here. You are too busy writing.

So, I should meditate on this? Spend some time in quiet reflection, sitting with my demons, letting them in, experiencing their company so that I can know them?


But that’s as hard as writing. I sit every morning and the most I’ve accomplished is a series of loving kindness meditations to help like myself better.

That’s a start. It’s important to like yourself. But you’re listening to someone else tell you how to like yourself. Have you sat in silence and listened for your voice?

Do you mean, have I listened for you? Who are you?

I am you.

Then why are you so calm? Why aren’t you always freaking out about everything that needs to get done and all the time on this earth that you’re wasting because you can’t get out of your own way?

I live in a different world. I am internal. You, I really, have crafted a world where I exist as a writer. Where I meditate daily and for long stretches until I am ready to get off the cushion, where I write uninterrupted and with passion whenever I feel like writing, which is often. This is a world where I’m not torn in different directions by outside forces. I live in a world where everything is perfectly aligned with my goals to create.

That sounds wonderful. Can I come in?

No. You are us in the external world. You have competing priorities and many other benefits in your world: family, friends, work, entertainment, nature, beauty. Do not wish to leave those things. They are inspiring.

But all that distraction kills my writing.

No, it doesn’t. You must look at it as inspiring. You have seen this before. You have connected two ideas in a book you have read with an article you found online and it inspired you to write for hours. Do you remember?

Yes, that was a creativity charged moment. I felt so alive!

You can feel that again. But you must first sit quietly with why you are not doing that. I understand you’re busy. That’s why I suggested the writing habit. It’s boring and routine, but necessary when you live out there.

You’re right. Of course you are. Sounds like you have time to figure these things out. I wish I did.

You will figure it out as you write. Just start.

The tsunami off the coast

For about three weeks now, I’ve been feeling the slight rumblings of what I think will be something terrible.

It’s like the ground is shaking ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly and very deep down.

I can feel the tilt in my world; not noticeable enough for anyone else to feel it. No one is asking if I’m OK. But I know it’s coming.

It’s far off the coast right now, roiling and boiling in its darkness. It’s deep; it’s dark; it will be all-encompassing when it comes. It will move things that I have put in place and wash away things that I need to have. It will probably flatten me and drag me around and injure me and suck me under.

It starts small. A forgotten task on a to-do list. A chore that I keep putting off. Later mornings, sleepless nights. Ignored reminders and skipped meditations. More junk food and less good food.

The bad habits creep back. The good habits start to slide. I spend more time angry and negative and less time upbeat and hopeful.

I can tell it’s coming by the books I choose to read: Atomic Habits by James Clear, Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson. I’m trying to ward off the storm. I’m trying to find my way back inland before the tidal wave hits the beach. I’m not succeeding.

I’m buried up to my knees in thick, wet sand and every step is a full-body effort. The fear that I won’t make it to high ground in time slows me down even more. It soaks through my brain like the spray from the ever more violent ocean. The tectonic plates that I can’t see, the ones that form a stable foundation for my ocean, are starting to shift and push against each other. They come alive in revolt because I’ve not been doing what I promised to do. I’ve not been building on my solid foundation. I’ve been tired and weak and whiny. I’ve been letting my foundation slip. And the slipping will cause a tsunami.

I see small breaks in the clouds as rays of sun shine on the dark ocean. They brighten those spots and I feel that if I can just get to them and bask in the sun for a bit, I can help calm the ocean before the tsunami builds way out there and crashes over me, dragging me around and tearing me away from solid ground.

The tsunami is coming.

But the tsunami can be calmed.

I will meditate every morning for at least 10 minutes right after I workout.

I will write one page every morning before I log in to my computer.

I will drink green or herbal tea instead of coffee after I have one coffee each day.

I will snack on fruits and veggies each day.

I can calm the tsunami.

Creativity overwhelm

Ever have too many ideas and not enough time to get them all out of your head and onto paper?

Ever feel like even doing that, jotting down the ideas in a notebook, would be pointless because by the time you carve out time to come back to the idea, the inspiration is gone and you’re left staring at notebook pages full of what are possibly really flaky ideas?

That’s me right now.

That’s me all the time.

But I’m learning that I don’t need to write down every last word that pops into my head when I have an idea. I can write a sentence or two and attach some emotion words to it and still understand what thought or idea I was trying to capture in that moment when I look back at it later.

It’s the emotion, the feeling of the moment that inspires ideas and prompts us to write them down to remember them later.

Like the sun streaming through the window onto my floor that’s warming my feet as I stand at the window and look out over my backyard. That is the description of what is happening with a small note about how it makes me feel in my body (warming my feet). But to really capture that moment, I attach these words to it: calm, safe, serene, peaceful, grateful.

I won’t soon forget that moment; the green grass, the sun dappled lawn, the shifting shade patterns from the gently blowing leaves of the catalpa trees. When I read that, I am transported back and feel relaxed, peaceful, filled with the deep breath of life. This is how I capture thoughts now, with emotion. It’s a little lesson on how to capture life.