All posts by Adina

Planners, notebooks, calendars, and journals. 

Kickstarter Bullet Journal, Hobonichi and Midori stacked up with my novel revisions. And my fountain pens.

About two years ago, I realized that digital planner was not cutting it. I didn’t use my calendar on my phone or my computer, and I was still trying to keep track of things in my head. That used to work fine for me only one list on my computer and the running one in my head. Now, however, I had two kids to keep track of, a job, a house, and my own personal goals and I was forgetting things.

I used to start each school year in college by buying a date book, and then filling it with course calendars, show calendars, work dates, personal appointments and it was brilliant. I kept this up while I was working in theatre as well.  Once I got out of theatre and before I had kids, life was pretty simple, and I stopped. I still have these and they are lovely little snapshots of how busy I really was.

When I realized I was having a problem keeping track of things I researched and purchased a Filofax, the British cousin of Day-Timer, and started writing it all down again. I put in daily tasks, and decorated the pages, and carted it everywhere.

And then I kept researching planners and I learned about the Midori Traveler’s Notebook. A simple leather cover with notebook inserts that ranged from sated calendars to blank watercolor pages.

And then I learned about the Hobonichi Techo, another Japanese datebook/planner that was immensely well laid out book with a page a day, on amazing paper that holds up to water color and fountain pen.

And the, I heard about Bullet Journaling, a system of task management similar to the Frankly-Covey/Getting Things Done method, but instead of using expensive proprietary materials, it just used a gridded notebook.

Hobonichi Techo and a brand new Hobonichi Cousin for 2016.

All of these now reside in my stack of daily journals. And you know what? I use them all. Not all every day, but most days several of them see action. My Filofax lives in my purse and has my calendar of appointments and holidays and all the various schedules for the family. (Which is echoed on the giant wall calendar in my kitchen.) My Midori has my novel and story planning and the long hand writing I do when a computer is not an option. My Hobonichi is a daily journal where I just jot down what we do each day, and paste in small pictures of bits of paper that chronicle our daily life.

Then there is my Bullet Journal. It is sadly the most neglected of the group, and it needs some reworking. I used it for daily task lists, but daily I was writing:

  • Dishes
  • laundry
  • tidy
  • read out loud
  • write/journal
  • make dinner
  • homeschool

I’ve found that a list that highlights the repetition of my day to day life and makes it even more boring does not induce me to look at it frequently. Wanting to look at my journals is key to actually using them, and yes sometimes that means decorated pages and overly saccharin stickers. Plus I kind of knew the routine, and did I really need to check off the same 5 things each day?

As I approach NaNoWriMo, I know I need to start tracking and planning my writing.  We are heading toward getting our windows replaced soon, and I need to get the house to a point where someone could potentially replace the back wall of my house (yes, that’s a possibility thanks to faulty siding and dry rot) and we need to move out of our storage unit at the same time. Enter my Bullet Journal.

I have a lot of books to keep track of things, but so far the system is working out. I didn’t mention my homeschool notebooks – one for daily schedule and one for tracking project work – or my various art books, but those are there too. Sometimes I look at the stack and wonder if one would suffice and maybe, it might, but I haven’t found the perfect system to track all of the things yet.

What kind of calendar, planning or journal set up do you use? Are you a multi-book person or do you believe in one journal to rule them all?

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Single Tasking

 If your life is like most people’s these days, you are doing several things at once. We make lists and try to squeeze in one more thing before we are out the door, or off to bed.  And if you aren’t doing several things, you are worrying about what you aren’t doing right now.   
I’m tired. I’m sick of doing three things at once and only getting to really pay attention to a third of any of it. Some of this comes with kids, the little people need your attention, after all. Some of it is, well, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s a culture shift that means you are available 24/7, to everyone. Or perhaps it’s all the information we have all the time. I’m not sure. 

What I have noticed is that I’m enjoying less of what I do, and simultaneously wanting to do less. I find I’ve eaten a meal so fast I can’t really remember if it was good. I watch a tv show and I can’t recall it the next morning. Books I’ve read recently have flown out of my head as fast as I read them. Doing things, even fun things, feels like a chore. And I don’t need more of those, thanks. 

After the kids’ bed time, I usually have a couple of hours to myself, before I collapse in a pile of sleepy me, to do things that require a bit more focus. This is when I write, draw, paint, knit, etc. It is also my free time to read, watch tv shows or movies, or listen to music. I had been stacking things up to do. I’d read and knit. Or draw and watch tv. Write and check my phone eleventy billion times. 

Nightly free time was starting to feel like a task on my to-do list, rather than some down time to just be me. And I discovered that I was putting it off. I’d sit and play mindless games on my phone and suddenly it would be bed time, and nothing would have been done. Then I’d be mad at myself for wasting time. 

It was not working. In the last couple weeks I’ve been stopping and really thinking about what I want to do each night. Then, I do just the one thing. A single focused task. When I’m at a stopping point, I don’t look for more to do, I go to sleep. 

It’s starting to be fun again. I’m still getting things accomplished, but I don’t feel overwhelmed as often. I am getting more rest, and I’m able to relax and get into whatever I’m doing. It’s easier all around. 

I’m trying to do this during the day as well. I want to show the kids that doing just one thing is okay. It’s alright to just watch a movie. Or just sit and read a book. Or have a conversation. It’s a challenge some days. There is a lot that wants my attention each day. 

Are you a multitasker? Or do you like to do one thing at a time?

Juvenile

 Self-perception is a tricky thing for artists in any genre.  It can be too easy to think of yourself as better than you are, or worse than you are.  Either way lies a pit of expectation.

I find that I think of my work as juvenile. It always appears to me to lack whatever it is that makes art or writing seem adult. I’m not sure if it is depth, or experience, or…? When I am drawing, my art often seems too clean, too bright, too sharp.  Like a child’s marker drawing.

My writing, well, I struggle to get any depth to it. To move beyond interesting descriptions into something that makes people want to read. My writing often reads like a high schooler writing in their diary, or a laundry list.

I am unsure if either of these perceptions are accurate – as I have  no audience to poll – but they stop me from creating a fair amount. Because I know that whatever I put out is going to be lacking in some undefinable way that I can’t fix.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. Grownup quality work. How to create something adult, interesting, compelling.  How the authors I read get to the point where they can make something engaging. How artists add enough of themselves into a piece to make it more than a doodle.

Is it that these artists know themselves well enough that they can share bits of themselves in their work? Is it practice or training? Talent or learned skill? How do you get from high school creative writing class to a ripping good read?

******

My short story is still out for one magazine, having been rejected (such a harsh term, but that’s what it is – though some publishers couch it as “declined”) for the other two.  No feedback beyond, “We’ll pass, thanks.” I wasn’t expecting a lot of feedback, but something beyond a form email would have been nice. And much like the “A fat envelope means you’ve been accepted to college” wisdom, there is a idea that if your story is rejected, but you get feedback, it’s good.  If you get a form letter, it’s not. I doubt it has a ton of truth to it – but it is still a thing you hear.

I won’t lie.  It’s discouraging.

I listened to the Writing Excuses podcast a lot last week.  If you are a writer, or interested, it is a fun listen.  Short (15 minutes or so), and they have book recommendations and writing “assignments” each week.  There is some in-depth discussion of technique and process as well.

The episode that stuck with me was about writing for fun.  Or rather, having fun writing. I’m not having much fun lately, and it has been a struggle to even do any at all. I’m getting bogged down in the “what comes next” bits, rather than enjoying creating a story. I’m having a hard time sinking into a world for 10-15 minutes before someone hollers for something or I need to break up a fight between the girls. I haven’t been protecting my writing time each day.  And thus, it has turned into a chore, and worse, a chore I’m failing to do properly.  Like doing the dishes but breaking a plate every time you load the dishwasher.

Drawing and painting has hit a point where I am improving, but still can’t quite get the picture in my head onto paper. Everything is just missing…something.  But I don’t know what exactly, so I can’t fix it.

I’m frustrated. And I’m stuck.

What do you do when you feel stuck? How do you get moving again?

Making a mess

What is this? Don’t know, but it was awfully fun to make.

One of the interesting things about homeschooling my kids is watching them create. They tend to pull or dump everything out, then slowly piece parts together and create order. The creating is in the refining of the mess they have made into a tower, or a collage.  They can look at a mess of a pile and extract the bits they need to make something coherent.

This also seems to be how I make things. Everything gets dumped onto a page and sorted out.  With art that is often taking pictures, doing tests of colors and techniques, and then doodling several possibly unrelated things before I get to what I wanted to make. Sometimes, I just make a mess to see what I get out of it.  And then I go back and do more to it, pull out order in my mess.

  

Order from the mess.

With writing, I find the first draft easy.  It is a dump of thoughts and images and all the florid prose I love to write. I love descriptions. I love painting a picture with words. It is a vivid, and sometimes nonsensical mess – the equivalent to a box of blocks dumped on the floor.

I am not a planner. I don’t outline, I don’t write character sketches or compile files about every place mentioned. This sometimes bites me in the backside when I finally do research, and find out the best setting for my book is in a place I have never been and know nothing about. Or that the law is nothing like what I just wrote about, and it completely tanks the whole plot. Mostly, though, it lets me avoid the block of having to research something before I write about it. It lets me pick the right blocks out of the mess and build my tower.

Sometimes, it leaves me with a big, fat mess on the floor and no idea where to start cleaning it up.  Each part intersects with the whole in a way that it will create more mess if I pick up the one bit, and make more of a mess. One of my stories is proving to be like that.  It is a lovely, vivid puddle of paint, but if I move the paper or add anything else, it will turn to mud. With painting, you can sometimes just leave that bright pool of color and it works.  With writing, that is often not enough to make it enjoyable to read, or interesting.


My children currently have a pile of blocks, magnet tiles, and glass gems piled on the light box.  Every once in a while they will wander by, move or extract something, and walk away again.  Each move creates a new picture, effortlessly altering the mess to be something beautiful. I envy the ease and fluidity of their creation.

How do you create? Are you an outliner and planner?  Or are you a mess maker?

On existing. 

  I have had the interesting feeling lately of vanishing. I first noticed the feeling of being invisible when I became a mother. But I was 31, so I was young enough to still be noticed by others, even when the fact that I had a child with me made their eyes slide past me. More recently, I have noticed I seem to be ceasing to exist outside of my own house.

Two kids and being over 40, and being one of the legion of moms in my age, race, and class in this town and I have become background noise.  Like the moon in the picture, hard to see for all the other closer, brighter lights.

It extends beyond just the feeling of invisibility when running errands. I have made changes twice in my life (going back to college, moving to PDX) that have seemingly left everything from before, behind.  Whole swaths of my life erased, ended, overwritten by what came next. And then, later, having a second child at a time when everyone else was finished having kids, and it was like turning around to find a formerly crowded street suddenly deserted.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I often seem to do things at times when no one else is doing them, becoming part of something either before it takes off, or as it is ending.  And even though I do things when I feel they need to be done, this out of step action has left me wondering where I am now.

In elementary school, I liked people.  I wanted to be their friend. I learned about them, emulated them, made overtures, and let them occupy a space in my brain and often my heart. Usually, in fact almost all of the time, this was one sided.  I felt a fondness and a connection that the other person often didn’t feel.  I would hazard a guess that most of the people in grade school – whose names I still know – would be hard pressed to identify me even by name, and my name is pretty unique.  I have been involved with groups of people I think of as friends, who have no idea who I was to them, or why I seem to know them.

How does one exist? By having a family? Or friends? By being in other people’s pictures, or perhaps sharing their own creations with the world? By making something permanent, no matter how small, so that someone decades down the line says, “Hey, this person, she existed, she did THIS.” And if you don’t do that? Do you cease to exist? If there are no pictures, or children, or paintings, or stories – what then? Are you just gone?

This is an awfully angst ridden post, I realize. These thoughts have been fueling my desire to write and create lately, and I have been trying to give them some sort of voice. My desire to write is as much about saying, “I am here, I did THIS,” as it is about sharing the stories my brain comes up with. Painting the flowers in my garden, or taking pictures of the moon while I am waiting at a stoplight is as much about documenting my life as it goes by as it is about making art. Maybe then, when someone finds the box of things I have created, decades down the line, they will say, “Look at what she made. Look at her life.”

August. 

 August, for me, is a lot like February. An oddly long month, with nothing to really set it apart. And then 3 years ago my youngest daughter arrived, on her due date halfway through the month, following close after the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London. (I do not recommend Spice Girls as labor music.)

Now, there is a marker mid-month. It punctuates the long stretch of late summer with preparation and visiting. And suddenly, it becomes September and then Autumn. I still get excited by Fall each year.  I also tend to get rather romantic and wordy about all the bits I love: the first smell of woodsmoke from fireplaces, the change of light in the afternoon, the crunch of leaves underfoot, the cool breezes that are just different than any other time of year.  If I were a poet, I would probably write about nothing else.  As it is, I tend to set most of my stories in the Fall.

Part of my love of Fall is the mystery.  Fog rolls in. Night comes earlier.  You can’t always tell whats going on with the weather, and storms pop up with no warning. The heat of the summer fades away, and being outside is comfortable again. It feels like a time for discovery and exploring.  And at the same time it is a time to regroup. Bring in the harvest, get ready for winter, evaluate your days. The Jewish New Year begins at the beginning of Fall.  This has always made more sense to me than beginning the new year in the middle of winter.

This summer is dragging on up here in the Pacific Northwest.  Hotter than usual, and I’m ready for it to be over. I’m working away on revising my novel, and getting hung up in all sorts of places.  Plot holes like moon craters over here. I saw some advice to write a summary of your novel to see where the problem bits are…and let’s just say I found them.  Writing a summary of something you came up with out of your own head seems like it would be easier. It’s really not.

I’m looking forward to the burst of creativity I get when we hit September! I always get a little more done that time of year. When is your most creative time? Or are you equally creative all year long? I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year.  Last year really gave me something to work with, and I like the focused month of work. Have you participated in NaNo? How did it work for you – was is harder or did you find it to be motivating?

The Intersection of Art and Craft, and the Whys of Inspiration 

Do art and craft intersect?  Or are they parallel paths?

Craft is technical proficiency: the knowing how to do something and using skills to achieve a desired result.  Art, well, everyone has their own definition, but doesn’t art have to have some inspiration behind it? Can art be possible if there is only craft involved in the making?

And what is inspiration? Half of my painting and drawing is because I want to see if I can do something, not because I am trying to communicate something or I have some ethereal vision.  I want to see if I can make something that looks like the flower growing in my garden.

Does that make it not art? Is it just an exercise at that point? If someone seeing it is inspired by it, or it moves them – regardless of my intention when creating it – does that make it art? (There’s another post in here about artist intention versus audience reception….)

And does the desire to recreate something I see count as inspiration? Does wanting to tell a story I find interesting qualify? Does it need a higher message to be art?

The question of “Why should anyone care?” seems to be driving a lot of my creation lately. I look at things I’ve done and think, well, that is technically proficient, but ultimately…boring.  My creation ability seems to be well suited to knitting socks and sweaters and less well matched to painting and writing.

Perhaps I have an antiquated view of art in my head. Art as the fine and rarefied thing you see hanging in a museum (which, realistically, I won’t ever be featured in), craft is the thing that everyone can do. Is there art in craft? Certainly. That passion, that inspiration that crosses the divide between the two, though, what is that made of? Where does that come from? Does it start with wondering if you can do something? Does it start with seeing God in a sunset? Does it start with practice or talent?

There’s a loaded word. Talent. I’ve grown to hate it. So much stuffed into one little word. Expectations, limitations, fantasy.  Being told I’m talented feels like a dismissal, as if I’m not working at what I do, it just happens magically with no effort.  This is hogwash. Being told I’m talented also ranks up there with people saying they don’t know where I find the time to do art, or that they could never do what I do.  It feels like a way of telling me it’s frivolous.  That doing something I’m already talented at (if I even am) is a waste of time I could be using to do…what? Accounting? Dishes? Whatever it is that other people use their free time to do? Something that is qualified as work. Something that isn’t useless.

Clearly, I don’t have any grand answers. I paint and draw because I find things beautiful or fascinating, and I want to create something that is beautiful or fascinating.  I also paint because I like finding out if I can do it.  I write because I have stories in my head that I like to put down on paper, and also because I want to see if I can do it. I knit because I like socks that fit and warm sweaters, and also to see if I can do it.  (Seeing a theme here?) Is that enough? For me, for right now, yes it is. For other people? I don’t know.  I don’t know if people will ever find my writing captivating, or my art inspiring.  There is no objective measure though, so I will keep creating as I can and see where it takes me. At the very least I will have made something pretty at the end of the day. And my socks will fit.

What inspires you to create? Do you consider yourself an artist or a crafter? Does the word talent make you grind your teeth?

Submitting

What I did last week while The Husband met Joss Whedon
What I did last week while The Husband met Joss Whedon

The dust is settling from The Husband going to San Diego Comic Con, and I finally have some time to blog.  The week he is gone seems longer than it is, but as it is his only business trip each year, we manage.  It’s a pretty cool business trip all told. I mean, hanging out at Comic Con is a pretty good work day.

Before he left I spent some time polishing up the short story I had been working on and I pulled the trigger and submitted it to two magazines.  That was the most nerve wracking thing I have done (aside from making dentist appointments) in a very long time. You wouldn’t think sending bits of text out into the wi-fi ether would be cause for nerves, but it was.

And then there’s the waiting.

One magazine says they will get back to you in 8-10 weeks.  The other didn’t say at all.

I submitted 10 days ago, so I have a while to wait.  I might have clicked on my Submittable account a few times….and the junk folder in my email is the cleanest it has ever been.

Finding places to submit my work is a challenge.  I don’t have the money to subscribe to all the literary magazines, and I rarely have the time to browse the magazines at Powell’s for longer than it takes for one of my kids to holler, “MOOOM!” at me. Someone pointed me toward Duotrope, and it looks amazing.  I have only begun to poke around it to see what it can find, though I haven’t signed up for an account yet, as it is a pay service.

Revisions on the book are going slowly. One of the problems I have faced since having children is that sometimes, they use up all the focus and creativity I have for the day. By the time we get to bedtime, there’s nothing left to offer. I think this is a common problem for parents, mother types especially.  Sometimes I read a couple of paragraphs and make a couple notes, and other times, I watch X Files on Netflix.

I need to pick a time where I can block off writing time and protect it. I can squeeze in a bit here and there, but not in the amount of time it needs to have dedicated to it. While the sliver of time after bedtime is good for doing small bits, it is also the time when I am most likely to fall asleep myself.  I also have found that drawing or painting comes easier to me when I am trying to clear my mind for sleep as well.

Do you have a creative pursuit and kids? What time of day do you find most conducive to working on it? How do you guard that time?

Daunting Editing

 There it is.  120-ish pages of writing, printed out and waiting to be edited. It was both cool to see it printed out, and alarmingly daunting. If I’m totally honest, it’s still sitting in the folder.  I have peeked at it a couple of times, but nothing beyond that. It is intimidating.

Writing is a daunting endeavor.  It is surprisingly easy to get the initial flood of words out. I’ve never had a problem writing thousands of words a day, racking up long stories was easy, even in high school, when my fiction assignments came in well over twenty pages, while my classmates were complaining at page five.

After that initial rush, however, it is a very different *ahem* story.  Rereading and editing is…uncomfortable.  I can see the bits that are lacking.  I can see the writing that is boring. The story in my head doesn’t match what is on the page, and I’m at a loss to fix it.

This 120 pages – very loosely based on some family history – is adding an extra level of difficulty.  What to keep? What to change? What to make up? What to use from actual history?

Not too long ago I finished reading Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, and it was such a beautiful book.  And it was boring as all get out. Beautifully written, but the tension and stakes were so low that ultimately, I didn’t care. It is 768 pages of gorgeous writing, that I had to struggle to get through because the descriptions were so fantastic that I lost the thread of what was going on. It reminded me of my writing a lot. Beautiful descriptions, not much movement.

That’s what you call an “Oh, crap.” moment.

What I am working on right now is all movement, few descriptions. It’s hard. Hard to keep the tension up, hard to make it exciting, hard to not lapse into a description of something beautiful. Something beautiful, and ultimately boring that takes the story nowhere, or worse – derails it entirely.

That’s not to say that all beautiful description is boring, but when that is the bulk of the story, it becomes tedious.  Like too much salt in the dinner, a little bit enhances the flavor.  Too much, and it becomes inedible.

I’m not sure what to salt, as it were.

I’m rambling here on the blog because I’m putting off facing the stack of paper.  Fortunately, rambling often provides me with a solution when I am unsure where to go. Fix the technical first – the commas, quotation marks, spelling and run-on sentences.  Things that are not attached to the story, and will let me reread without being critical of plot and setting.

I know this is only of marginal interest for most folks reading, so if you stuck with it this far, Thank You.  I’d love to know what fiction books you are reading right now, and what you think of the writing. And if you have a dissenting opinion of Winter’s Tale, I’d love to hear it. What books really get your brain going, make you eager to finish the story?

Well, then. Now what?

 I’ve been pondering the question of “Now what?” quite a lot this week.  My current employment has come to an end and I am wondering where we go now.  The job was a good one – fit my life perfectly.  It didn’t pay a ton, but enough to help out and give us some ease in our day to day life.  It also came with a lot of stress and more drama than I ever thought it would. In some ways, I’m relieved.  In others, I’m sad.

That brings me back to the “Now what?” question.

Frankly, nothing.  For a little while, anyway.  The last two jobs I’ve had have been convenient, and suited for my life at the time, but not really something I want to do for the rest of my working years. (As if anyone has that kind of stability anymore.)  I have the (admittedly giant) luxury of taking a bit of time to ponder what to do next. I recognize that it is a huge luxury to not have to scramble for a job, to not have to worry that the electricity will be turned off. And I really feel like I should use it to figure out which path to head down, and do it well.

Given that writing is one of the options that I have to pursue, I figure it was time to bring this blog out and give it a shine.  Don’t expect a homeschooling, mommy blog, or a billion pictures of my kids.  I’ve don’t that, and that is not what will show up on this blog.  I’m not fully sure what will show up here, but it will be something. It might even be interesting or well written…possibly both. If I’m lucky.