Calm in Agitation and Agitation in Calm

Heron Tree published my poem “Repent” as part of a series of poems created from materials published before 1927. Their call for submissions inspired me to explore a book of fairy tales I’ve had for a long time that was published in 1907. I talked about it in my post A Fun Found Poetry Project when I first started working on it back in January. Please check it out, and enjoy the great work they do at Heron Tree.

Calming Agitation by Maria L. Berg 2022

Calm & Agitation

This new way of studying abstractions really appeals to me. The idea of spending a week with contrasting abstractions and immersing myself in them is exciting and fun.

I finally figured out how to use the reflection balls in the lake. I made them a floating barrier by threading rope through some pool noodles. The color added by the pool noodles was I nice surprise. I like the effect so much, I ordered four more reflection balls of the same size. They arrive tomorrow. This weekend is going to be fun. Now I’m thinking of pool noodles as a color palette.

dVerse Poets Pub

Today was Open Mic Live (online) at dVerse. I always want to attend, but never make it. It starts at noon here in the PNW, and today it was 1pm before I finished making my filters and taking my photos. But I can still join in by posting a poem, so here’s today’s exploration of calm & agitation:

He says calm is the wind

I ask him what he thinks of
when I say calm
he waves his arm
majestically and says this

I turn from him, taking
in the entire day:
the sun, the lake, the sky
the warmth, the waves, the houses and trees
the moment we are sharing
as he pauses in his constant labors

Do you mean the lake?
Or the sun? Or? I prod
always wanting more
Actually, wind, he says,
Calm is the wind

I think of the gentle breeze
that guides a floating lounger
where I don’t want to go
I think of the wind that steals
my papers and pushes them
into bushes I think of the angry
wind that lifted the glass table
and threw it through the sliding door
I always think of the hurricane
that stole everything

I ask him what he thinks of when
I say agitation
He laughs, as if I should know?
Or he doesn’t want to say?
A disagreement of some kind
he answers, turning

That’s funny, I say, because
I always think of wind as agitation
because it makes things move
he moves on, and we both
continue our labors

Contrasting Abstractions: The next phase in my study

The Writer’s Games have ended! I sent in my final story yesterday. Guests have left. The family is busy. I might get a full day to myself. And the sun is out. 😎

Hope and Despair

Last week, inspired by some abstract art books:

and a writing tip from the Shaelin Writes video below, I started a new phase in my study of abstract nouns. Each week I’ll choose two opposing abstract nouns and attempt to create an image representing both. To inspire my work, I’m expanding my research from studying the words, history, and philosophy, to collecting music, paintings, photographs, poems, stories, scientific studies, and anything else I can find that represents the two abstractions, immersing myself for the week.

Using the statement, “Find the despair in hope, and the hope in despair,” I created several filters and tried different techniques. Here is one of the images:

Hope & Despair by Maria L. Berg 2022

Calm & Agitation

This week, expanding on the idea, I am exploring “Find the agitation in calm, and the calm in agitation.” Let’s start with some definitions:
agitate: 1. a. to give motion to b. to move with an irregular, rapid, or violent action 2. to excite and often trouble the mind or feelings of: Disturb 3. to discuss excitedly and earnestly
calm: 1. a period or condition of freedom from storms, high winds, or rough activity of water 2. a state of tranquility: free from agitation, excitement, or disturbance

So what could possibly be the agitation in calm? It depends on the person and situation. I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to lie still for long, so my own thoughts are often the agitation. On the beach, the agitation could be the sand fleas; at the lake, the music from the boats going by, or mowers and chainsaws. The waves themselves are the definition of agitation, though the sound of them hitting the shore may be the calm in agitation.

For today’s images, I noticed light glinting off spiderwebs, and experimented with creating my shapes from that light. It worked! And with the very cool effect of making smaller shapes than the light on the leaves behind the webs.

Agitation in the Calm by Maria L. Berg 2022

dVerse Poets Pub

For today’s Poetics prompt, Lisa challenges us to consider fractals in relation to poetry in subject or form.

Rapid Irregular Movement

agitation nags                               it's tickling                               through the calm
little bits build                      to agitate with malice                      while lying calmly
in the sun                               even after the years                            have passed to
a calming age                             all is distraction                dizzying feelings of ions
commingling                                 I see them                              behind closed lids
and the gate creeks           commensurate to the spots                             gyrating

A Year of Finishing Novels: Special Guest Post from Jacob M. Appel

Though we are in the throws of National Poetry Writing Month and the A to Z Challenge, the theme this year for Experience Writing is A Year of Finishing Novels, and I need to get back to mine. To rekindle my motivation and hopefully yours, we have a very special guest post from author Jacob M. Appel whose new novel, Shaving with Occam, came out this January.

Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of novels, short story collections, an essay collections, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas.

The Third Priority: Reflections upon Motivation

I have now published twenty books. That places me one volume ahead of the late Joan Didion—if this were a competition—one volume behind Ann Beattie, and some incalculable number of texts short of the prolific Joyce Carol Oates. Some of my books have been reasonably well-received: or, at least, my grandmother enjoyed them. Others have evaporated into that forlorn ether of remaindered novels, shorn of their covers or relegated to the bargain bins that serve library fundraisers. Unlike with my first few novels, which I secretly fantasized might win plaudits from Oprah and Harold Bloom, become staples of cocktail conversation and college curricula, and ultimately alter the course of western civilization, I have now accepted that my twenty-first book is unlikely to outsell Harry Potter. In all likelihood, it will not even outperform the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. And yet I am determined to see my obscure literary brainchild to fruition. Which leads to the question: How does a writer motivate himself while scribbling well below the cultural radar screen?

The easy answer is that I have not fully accepted that my twenty-first book won’t prove the intellectual earthquake that my first twenty were not. This does happen. Some writers, like Kafka and John Kennedy Toole, have to wait for posthumous glory, but many others—including some of our most cherished authors—did not gain significant readerships until midway through their careers. Toni Morrison, for instance, had published two exquisite novels, The Bluest Eye and Sula, before she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon at the age of forty-six and finally garnered the attention she deserved. Cormac McCarthy’s first five novels, including Blood Meridian, received limited notice—until All the Pretty Horses shattered the nation’s literary icescape when he was sixty. So maybe there is hope for me yet. In any case, it is never too late to publish a “break out” book—as Harriet Doerr did at 74 and Millard Kaufman at 90. Building up a body of work can be a path to making that happen. Edith Pearlman’s brilliant Honeydew offers an outstanding example of how a crowning achievement can be both the capstone of a literary career and a door to recognition for previous work. Nothing wrong with thinking big, and so you should. It’s not as though you’re asking to play shortstop for the New York Yankees or marry the Queen of England; rather, you’re seeking recognition for work in an area where you have developed skills over many years of hard work and commitment. That is not at all unreasonable.

But how does a writer operationalize that (to use the language of the modern economy)? Thinking big is good and well in theory, but much harder when you’re using your first twenty books as doorstops and your children keep asking you why the heat has been turned off and a mattress-sized hole in the roof lets in the snow. My limited wisdom is to make writing one’s third priority in life. Not, I emphasize, one’s first priority. A mistake many writers make is trying to prioritize their writing ahead of other fundamental obligations like work and family. Maybe this works if you’re J. D. Salinger or Emily Dickinson, but like starvation diets, most such efforts succumb to the pressures of daily living. Earning a living and engaging with one’s family are usually the top two priorities for most human beings, although both definitions of livelihood and family are certainly fluid and flexible in the modern era. Embrace that. But make sure writing is one’s third priority—ahead of learning Esperanto or how to play the oboe or binge watching all of the original episodes of What’s My Line? If writing ranks below third on the list of life’s obligations, one is far less likely to complete novel one, let alone twenty-one.

Often, I have discovered, my students believe that they are making writing their third priority, when they’re not. I confess I am often guilty of this self-deception myself. What they are actually prioritizing are the small, mundane tasks—finishing their taxes, sending out Christmas presents—that they believe stand in the way of writing, so that they will then have a schedule free and clear to write. Maybe it is human nature to tackle these minor tasks before large creative ones, or possibly, we’re trained to do this as part of our elementary school time-management education, but in either case, it’s a great skill set for an administrative assistance, but not for a writer. These minor tasks sap one’s energy, so that when one finally has a clear schedule, one no longer has the stamina or drive to put pen to paper. Write first! Then tackle the chores of daily living. I assure you that nobody is going to send you to prison for tax evasion, or refuse to invite you to eat cranberries and roast goose, if you arrive at the post office at 3pm and not 9am. In contrast, sitting down to your novel after a series of errands can prove daunting.

Yet I suspect the leading obstacle to writing, for most writers, is writing itself. What do I mean? Most writers have a number of literary projects in their hopper—as well as requests for book reviews, friends who seek blurbs, colleagues who ask for a clever, short commentary for a newsletter or solicit a human-interest article for the local paper, etc. These offers are often flattering; they can prove rewarding. In aggregate, they are also the novelist’s sworn enemies. It is not enough to make writing one’s third priority. One must make one’s principal literary project, whether a novel or a work of nonfiction, one’s third priority. Otherwise, one will drown under the weight of interesting yet tangential projects.

Which leads us to priority number four: Submitting. If you’re going to make writing your third priority, you owe it to yourself to make sending that writing out into the world your fourth priority. Do not dither, or doubt yourself, or let the perfect be the enemy of the good. None of us may ever catch up with Joyce Carol Oates, but we don’t have to. It only takes one book, and we are all only 54,000 words away from our own Great Gatsby. If it’s not book twenty-one for me, then at least I’m one step closer.

More Novels by Jacob M. Appel

#SoCS: Splicing the Frayed Ends

Rope Burn by Maria L. Berg 2022

Today’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt “rope” inspired me to get out and take some pictures. Living near water and boats, rope takes on a special meaning of securing connection. Here’s an excerpt from my journal this morning:

“I was tied in knots. The rope fraying, unraveling, the rope tossed, wasn’t fastened at the other end and fell in a heap when I tried to climb.

“Unroped the weak trunk/stalk bends; the boat floats from the dock lost; the vines don’t rise.

“Roped the weak fibers grow strong; twisted and entwined the brittle become bendable; the separable, inseparable; the meek, brave. Rope connects the floating to the stable; tethers the roaming home; anchors the flighty to ground. Rope can tear and burn the skin when held, but also holds the opposing as they pull, growing stronger as they repel.” ~Maria L. Berg

On the Ropes by Maria L. Berg 2022

The dVerse Poets prompt from Thursday was to try the Synchronicity form. I started playing with it yesterday, but didn’t get very far, so I thought I would try again today. The form is a non-rhyming poem of 8 three-line stanzas. Each stanza has a syllable count of 8,8,2. It is in first person and has a twist presented in the last two stanzas.

The Rope

The rope hangs from the reaching branch
of the ancient maple next door
waiting

Its looped shadow reflects below
changing as a breeze whispers through
the leaves

I believe it has always hung
there, dry, aged, and fraying, yet strong
enough

The branch may be the weaker link
How much weight will it take before
it breaks?

An eagle screams as the others
gather and motion me over
to join

The threat of danger makes my bare
skin erupt with goosebumps as I
shiver

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One after another they climb,
put a foot in the loop, and swing
Scream! Splash!

This time I will dare to let go
of the rope swing and fly into
the lake

Bowline by Maria L. Berg 2022
End of the Rope by Maria L. Berg 2022

A Year of Finishing Novels: Surprises & Set-backs

Snow Cat by Maria L. Berg 2022

This week was both surprising and challenging. My daily writer’s meditation and novel writing habit almost got me through some very freezing weather and surprise snow, and my feeling of impending doom from world politics. My morning stretching and exercise followed by meditation has really changed my relationship with my body. I’m listening to my body, and feeling like a complete system, instead of an opposing duality of mind and body that I have been for years. However, my mind was eventually worn down by distraction and horrible thoughts of “What’s the point of creation when humans are bent on destruction?” So I took yesterday off.

Set-backs will happen. I feel like giving myself a break was a healthy set-back. But only one day off and I’m finding it hard to get back into my new system. Especially since I feel a need to write more, not less. I’ve had to remind myself to be patient a lot today. Patience is everything when trying to make lasting changes and create systems of positive habits. I just started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear–I enjoyed his email course that I got through the Best Year of Your Life Summit–and plan to talk more about habit systems in my next post.

A Cold Mountain Haibun Poem Interlude

Over at dVerse Poets Pub it is Haibun Monday and Frank has challenged us to contemplate both the work of a poet from the Tang Dynasty and a physical mountain. It’s pouring today, so the mountain is not out, but I know it’s collecting snow behind those clouds.

Cold Mountain Sky

My sky is a giant, cold mountain. Even in summer its glacier keeps it white-capped. It is easy to forget the volcano sleeping inside. Like me, its heat and pressure are hidden, tucked under a thick, calm crust, for now. But it is dormant, while I toss and turn.

You shared your blanket
white covering the morning
a fluffy surprise

Photograph of Mt. Rainier and its reflection in the lake.
Cold Mountain Sky by Maria L. Berg 2022

Assessment

Last week was challenging. Luckily, the work I’ve done to create a daily writing habit got me through (mostly).

My weekly check-in:

  1. What went right last week? My morning habits are really going well. I added a ten minute vocal warm-up after the full writer’s meditation and before I sit down to write. The cat absolutely hates it. It’s pretty funny. I read a thriller novel from the rather large collection of e-books I’ve collected. I’m finally excited to read one thriller after another until I’ve cleared my kindle. I can already see how I can learn both what to do and what not to do from these books. I used to have trouble finishing e-books, I guess I finally got used to reading on my tablet. I also had one night of (mostly) good sleep without the laptop!! Victory. This week, I’ll hope for two in a row. That would be amazing. But, as I said last week, I can’t try to sleep; I have to let sleep happen.
  2. What didn’t go well last week? Russia invaded Ukraine and I had trouble concentrating on much else. I finally took a day off yesterday, and I’m not upset about it. I’m kind of amazed I got anything done at all last week. A day of distraction watching movies and cuddling with the cat was what I needed. Now, I’m ready to get back to work. I also did not meet my submission goal, but reading thrillers took priority as a novelist.
  3. What small steps will I add this week? This week I’m adding the poetry MFA eight week program. I’ve been reading The Portable MFA in Creative Writing from The New York Writers Workshop and the poetry section interested me. Rita Gabis lays out an eight week plan of writing and reading to emulate a semester of an MFA in poetry. She recommends dedicating forty-five minutes a day to writing poetry. She also recommends breaking those minutes up into small sessions at different times of the day to explore when the optimum time is for my poetic musings. April is National Poetry Month, so I think I’ll start now, fitting the MFA program into my system. Then the second half of the “semester” will coincide with the daily poetry writing challenge. I am also going to try the Sleep Smarter Sleep Makeover again. A lot of Shawn Stevenson’s ideas have stuck with me, and now that I’ve identified some of my deeper issues, and created some good sleep habits, I’m hoping the two week program will be the extra motivation I need to get my sleep habit to stick.
  4. Is it time to increase one of my habits? 750 words each day felt challenging, but I want to get to 1,000, so this week I think I’ll split my writing session into two 500 word sessions and see what happens.
  5. What else did I try? I made a collection of all the thriller e-books on my kindle. There are twenty-seven. I plan to read one after the other until I have read them all.

Accountability

One area that every resource talks about is social accountability. I have found many times in the past that if I share my goals here on Experience Writing, I am more likely to achieve them.

I would really enjoy if you would like to join me in an accountability club. Every week, type your goals in the comments, or leave a link to your post and we can check in with each other to see how we did with our goals.

My goals this week are to:

  1. Two 500 word sessions each day
  2. Read two thriller novels this week
  3. Week one of the poetry MFA
  4. Sleep Smarter Sleep Makeover

That’s it. I hope you will hold me accountable.

We Can Reach Our Dreams Together!

A Year of Finishing Novels: Rewards and Celebrations

A small jar full of colorful papers that says rewards , a valentine's card that says you're AMAZING! and a small purple plastic megaphone on a desk.
Celebrate the Little Things by Maria L. Berg 2022

I tried again to do a Sunday week in review post, and again my work wouldn’t load, so Monday is my Year of Finishing Novels posts day. I am not going to waste time fighting with my internet. My time is for writing novels and reaching my goals. And sharing my progress and what I’m learning with you, of course.

Rewards

As I mentioned in my last post, a habit cycle consists of a cue, a behavior, and a reward. As I began this process of identifying the habits I would like to create, and the habits I would like to change, I found it hard to identify my rewards.

I don’t like shopping. I have everything I want and need, and I don’t have money to spend on things as rewards. I also didn’t want food or beverages to be my rewards. I felt kind of stuck. I wanted to set up these systems to reward my new behaviors, but how?

Then I really looked at myself and thought about times in my past when I was really happy. I went through a period of time when I closely associated with Tigger because I love bouncing. I’m trying to increase movement and exercise, so jumping on my rebounder (small trampoline) became a reward.

That got me thinking that many of the behaviors I enjoy that are not writing could act as rewards for meeting my small goals. With fun activities as rewards I came up with:

  1. Jump on the rebounder
  2. Draw for 10 minutes
  3. Dance Break!
  4. Go take some pictures
  5. Stretch on yoga ball
  6. Put stickers on stuff
  7. 10 minute meditation
  8. Play guitar for five minutes

I was also reading Jack Canfield’s Success Affirmations and was inspired to write some phrases to tell myself I am doing great.

I wrote my action rewards and my affirmations on colorful slips of card stock paper, folded them up and put them in a jar, so when I had done my desired action, I could open my reward jar (pictured above), and get a surprise reward.

At first, when I pulled an affirmation out of my word jar and said it aloud, it didn’t feel like much of a reward. Then one day, when I was cleaning out the closet for my meditation, I found an old toy megaphone (pictured above) that has five different voice-altering settings. When I said my affirmation (any of the affirmations out of my reward jar) using the megaphone on either the high pitch, low pitch, or monotone settings, it made me laugh. That felt like a reward.

Celebrations

In Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg takes a different stand on what reward really means. He says the idea of a large reward in the future for achieving your goal isn’t going to work. You need to reward yourself instantly after your behavior (Made me think of training a pet). To do this, he chooses to fist bump and say, “I’m awesome” (Even after he flosses one tooth, since that was his tiny habit that he started with to create a flossing habit).

It’s important to send yourself that little dose of dopamine (pleasure) to get the behavior to stick. Finding what works for you is important. Fist bump and “I’m awesome” didn’t work for me. After thinking about how I respond to happy news and practicing some things, I found clapping three times and saying, “Yeah!” or “Woohoo” in a certain way, gave me a smile and a good feeling of accomplishment.

With my rewards and celebrations in place, I have the tools I need to create and solidify the small changes that will make my large goals possible.

A Salty Poem Interlude

Over at dVerse Poets Pub the Quadrille Monday prompt is salt. Whimsygizmo challenges us to use any form of the word “salt” in a poem of exactly 44 words.

The Salty Bite

Like the squares of Himalayan Pink Salt I’ve pinched
so sparingly for years from the squat jar sitting
by the coffee in the cupboard, each word can pack
a surprising punch, especially when the salty bite
hides in the center of the sweetest treat.

A photograph of a small jar of Himalayan Pink Salt on a shelf.

Assessment

Last week was big for me. Some set-backs and disappointments on the sleep goal, but also some break-throughs.

My weekly check-in:

  1. What went right last week? My morning writing habit is going so well. I have started thinking about my novel the moment I wake up. This morning I ran to the keyboard so I wouldn’t forget what I was thinking, and had my daily words before I started my routine. I’m now doing the full writer’s meditation (body, heart, and mind) and getting better at sitting every day. I find that when my mind wanders, it wanders to my novel which is fantastic! I’m moving more and more throughout the day. I have fuller range of motion, and I’m pain free!!
  2. What didn’t go well last week? Sleep is still difficult. The week’s biggest disappointment was a day and night when I felt I had done absolutely everything right, then I got into bed and it was like I didn’t know how to go to sleep. I stared into the darkness for what felt like forever. I tossed and turned and tossed and turned. I gave up and read. It felt like torture. The next day I gave in and slept with the laptop. The next day I read three sleep books. Two of them: Restful Sleep by Deepak Chopra and The Sleep Solution by W. Chris Winter explained why I had been disappointed by my efforts, and they both said the same thing: Sleep is natural; you can’t try to sleep. You have to let sleep happen. I had tried so hard, worked so hard to sleep, I had created an entirely new anxiety keeping me awake. Sounds like something I would do. But no more! This week I will let sleep happen.
  3. What small steps will I add this week? This week I’m adding my voice to the mix. I’m going to do vocal exercises in the morning and sing and play guitar at night after I put the laptop away and before I go to bed.
  4. Is it time to increase one of my habits? I’m happy to say I feel ready to increase my daily writing goal again. This week I’m writing 750 words or more every day. I always said I wasn’t one of those people who writes every day, but that is exactly who I am, and it’s making such a difference in every aspect of my life.
  5. What else did I try? One of the little things I tried last week that turned out to make a huge difference, was a simple Youtube video called Vagus Nerve Reset. The sleep issues and constant state of fight or flight that my poor body has been in both stem from surviving Hurricane Katrina and the the piles of stressors after that. I never stopped being in that survival mode, until now. Since I started these small new habits of motion in the morning and meditation and paying attention to my body, I’ve noticed my range of motion improving and the knots in my back loosening up, but I also had a horrible pain in my right shoulder. I knew it was all that stress not wanting to let go; I’ve held stress in my shoulders since high school, but this was an acute pain that wouldn’t loosen up and was hurting when I tried to sleep. I was almost crying by the time I went ahead and tried the Vagus Nerve video. And I noticed a difference. That same day I did the Full body scan meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Masterclass and though my shoulder was still bothering me, by the end of the meditation, it wasn’t screaming at me. I did the Vagus Nerve Reset and the Vagus Nerve Exercises again the next day and then yesterday was my first pain free day. I was so happy I was dancing and singing around the house all day. It might be a placebo. I don’t care. I’m going to keep doing it and being so very happy.

Accountability

One area that every resource talks about is social accountability. I have found many times in the past that if I share my goals here on Experience Writing, I am more likely to achieve them.

I would really enjoy if you would like to join me in an accountability club. Every week, type your goals in the comments, or leave a link to your post and we can check in with each other to see how we did with our goals.

My goals this week are to:

  1. Write at least 750 words of my novel every day
  2. Add vocal warm-ups in the morning and guitar playing before bed
  3. One story submission and one poetry submission this week

That’s it. I hope you will hold me accountable.

We Can Reach Our Goals Together!

A Year of Finishing Novels: Designing Habits

Orange and blue lights reflected in a room of mirrors.
Playing in the Mirrorworld by Maria L. Berg 2022

I wanted to get this post out yesterday for my new habit of Sunday Assessment and Accountability, but my internet was ridiculously slow and not loading the site, then not loading this page, so I stopped trying to force it. There was no point in fighting and making myself miserable when the information is just as relevant today. One of the important lessons I’m learning about sticking with my new habits to reach my large goals is to be flexible.

Goals

When I started breaking my dream goal of finishing my novels into its smaller goals, I came up with:

  1. Finish First Draft
  2. Read and Revise
  3. Get Feedback
  4. Revise
  5. Edit
  6. Polish

Each of those goals can be broken into smaller goals with steps and deadlines. At first, I tried creating some S.M.A.R.T. goals. This mnemonic stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Then I read about S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals which added that the goal has to be Exciting and have Risk.

After breaking some of my goals into SMART and SMARTER goals, I realized there was a fatal flaw in the system for me: Time-bound goals set me up for failure. If I defined my goal around doing things at certain times and then something came up that made me late: I’ve already failed before I started.

Then I read Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, PhD and his ideas clicked for me. Instead of using a specific time to cue a habit, create a system using the cue of “After.” Such a simple change, but it makes all the difference.

Habits

In The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he identifies the habit cycle as:

  1. A cue or trigger
  2. the behavior
  3. reward

To understand and change a habit, you need to identify you triggers, and rewards. This was hard for me at first, and I will talk more about the steps I took in my next post. To get started creating tiny habits, it helps to identify an anchor habit, something you already do on a regular basis. For BJ Fogg, it was going to the bathroom.

Tiny Habits

The idea of tiny habits is to break your goal into the tiniest, easiest thing you can do toward your bigger goal. BJ Fogg wanted to get in shape. The easiest, smallest thing he thought of was doing two push-ups. Every time he went to the bathroom, he would do two push-ups.

For my goal of finishing novels, the smallest thing I knew I could do every day toward my goal was write 500 words. I already had a habit of writing morning pages, but I wasn’t always consistent, so I lowered my morning pages to two pages instead of three, and created this habit: “After I write my morning pages, I will do my writer’s meditation. After I do my writer’s meditation, I will type 500 words of my novel.”

A Tiny Habit System

As you can see, using the word “After” instead of “At 9 am every morning” creates a system of small successes instead of setting you up to fail if your schedule changes for some reason.

Once I knew how my writing habit fit together, then I worked backwards to attach it to the one thing I know I will do every morning which is–Wake up.

Mt. Rainier at sunset as a flock of water fowl swim through its reflection.
Reflection with Diving Birds by Maria L. Berg 2022

Assessment

My weekly check-in:

  1. What went right last week? Last week my morning writing habit continued solidly. The increase to 600 words worked every day. Another group of small habits paid off. I started looking at myself in my tablet camera (back on January 26th) every time I turned it on to do my writing meditation. And over time, I fixed the lighting in the room and where I placed the camera, etc. until I thought it looked like me. Then, on Tuesday, I showed my face to my Zoom writing group for the first time. It was a big step for me. And I did it again on Thursday.
  2. What didn’t go well last week? Though I did sleep two nights without the laptop, my nightly habit attempts are still not going well. My morning pages habit was a good anchor habit to build from for my daily novel writing, but I don’t have a strong night time anchor that leads to my sleep goals–yet.
  3. What small steps will I add this week? This week I’m adding a revision goal. I’ve found that I enjoy printing out my stories as booklets then reading and revising them as separate little books, kind of my own version of the journal “One Story.” I would like to read, revise, and type up the changes of two stories this week. Since the reading and making notes part of that goal doesn’t include the computer, I will add reading a page of my story a tiny habit as part of my night time system.
  4. Is it time to increase one of my habits? Not this week. Last week’s increase to 600 words was good, but was challenging on a couple of days when I was tired. I’ll stay at 600 for now. My daily walk goal last week didn’t stick. I walked four days. And since it’s supposed to rain for the next week, I have changed this goal to using my cardioglide while I watch a Masterclass lesson.
  5. What else did I try? I moved my gratitude journal and my morning movement out of the bedroom and into the office because they are part of my waking up system and I want my bedroom to be only for sleep. I was going to give up on the topical magnesium spray because it felt greasy and sticky, but then I saw Jessica Baumgardner’s article about massaging it into her feet before bed and though it still makes my hands feel icky (I can always wash my hands), I’m going to try to make it a habit.

Accountability

One area that every resource talks about is social accountability. I have found many times in the past that if I share my goals here on Experience Writing, I am more likely to achieve them.

I would really enjoy if you would like to join me in an accountability club. Every week, type your goals in the comments, or leave a link to your post and we can check in with each other to see how we did with our goals.

My goals this week are to:

  1. Write at least 600 words of my novel every day
  2. Increase movement by using my cardioglide while watching a Masterclass
  3. Review my novel for 15 minutes every day

That’s it. I hope you will hold me accountable.

We Can Reach Our Goals Together!

#SoCS: Everything Turns Into Dreams of Flight

A photograph of a large seagull flying past the slope of Mt. Rainier.
The Auspice by Maria L. Berg 2022

Today’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt is “fortune.” Here’s an excerpt from my circular journey in my journal this morning.

“The greatest of my fortunes is letting go of the past, of gathered resentments, and disappointments, turning them into new paths of discovery, changing them into flying dreams. How else can I explore “fortune” today? Dictionary: fortunate (comes before fortune) adj. 1. bringing some good thing not foreseen as certain: Auspicious. . . . Auspicious: adj. affording favorable auspice. Auspice: n. observation by an auger especially of the flight and feeding of birds to discover omens. What a fun full circle to my stream of consciousness about turning past disappointments into flying dreams. “

A bokeh image of a fairy flying from a seeding flower.
Dreams of Flight by Maria L. Berg 2022

A Year of Finishing Novels: The first tiny steps

Mt. Rainier and its reflection in the lake in pastel hues at sunset.
Today’s Reflection by Maria L. Berg 2022

For my year of finishing novels, my first step was identifying where I became derailed in the past. I identified three areas where I would like to make changes: 1. Sleep 2. Hormonal Imbalance 3. Priorities. I read books in these three areas and looked for simple steps I could implement right away.

Mindset Matches Identity

To make lasting changes, I needed to identify why I want to make these changes, and part of exploring my whys is also redefining my identity to match my goals.

When I started this writing journey, I self-published my photo-illustrated picture book Gator McBumpypants Hears a Scary Noise, I also had a short story published in Five on the Fifth. At this point I identified as an author and set my goals and measured my successes as an author.

This, however, is too broad an identity for my main goal of finishing novels. As an author, I submit short stories and poems; I write novel drafts, screenplays, and blog posts. I get excited by every opportunity and find myself writing constantly, spreading myself thin, and finishing the shorter projects, because I need to have pieces to submit for publication.

This year I have defined my identity more precisely to fit my goal: I am a novelist. What do novelists do? They write novels. They revise, polish, and sell novels. They eat, sleep, dream, and breathe novels. They read novels, discuss novels, plan novels.

How did that help me change my behavior? It helped me focus my priorities.

Priorities

In the past, I often found myself overwhelmed. I had a list a page long of all the things I wanted to do in a day and never could find enough time. I often felt like I was failing because I wasn’t revising my novel, or stories and though I was working all the time, I didn’t appear to have much to show for it. My problem was focus. I have so many interests, I would pursue whatever caught my eye, work for a while, and then move to the next shiny project.

Many friends said to choose three things each day, but that made me feel like I was letting important things slide, and I couldn’t choose. Then I landed on Six Rolling Priorities and it started working right away. Each morning, I list what I, the novelist, need to do.

Once I have my list, I spend some time evaluating the importance of these activities toward reaching my goal of finishing novels. Keep in mind that balancing my hormones, and getting enough sleep work toward getting words on the page, too. So my first day of Six Rolling Priorities I wanted to finish the things that already had deadlines, to clear my plate as it was, and my list was:

  1. Watch Today’s “The Best Year of Your Life Summit” presentations
  2. Make The Answer Books and send them
  3. Finish my PAD Chapbook and email it
  4. Work on fairy tale found poetry
  5. Novel
  6. Revise Short Stories

As you can see, that first day, I hadn’t quite stepped into my identity as a novelist, but patience is the key ingredient when making these small changes.

The next step is to break each of these priorities into their smallest steps. Let’s use my third priority as an example. I wanted to finish the Chapbook of the poems I wrote during the Poem-a-Day Challenge and submit them before the deadline. Here is how I broke down that goal:

  1. Revise opening poem
  2. Revise ending poem
  3. Revise re-mix poem
  4. Make word document (it was in Scrivener before)
  5. Create Title page and Index
  6. Print
  7. Read aloud
  8. Make final changes
  9. Submit email entry to Writer’s Digest

Breaking each goal down like this really worked for me. It helped me see very manageable actions instead of one overwhelming demand.

That first day I was able to check off the top three priorities for that day.

So how is that different than just picking three things like my friends said? Because it feeds my imagination of thinking I can do more while being realistic at the same time. It also plans for future success by breaking down the necessary steps of the priorities that will be at the top of the list soon.

The next day’s priorities were:

  1. Watch Summit Videos
  2. Create found poetry
  3. Novel
  4. Revise Short Story
  5. Sew
  6. Read

Look how quickly my novel was rising in the priority list. Now it is priority one, every day.

Easy Wins

Once I started enjoying my six rolling priorities, I turned my attention to simple changes I could make to increase my chances of success. The very first thing I did was clean my room to make it more conducive to a good night’s sleep. That lead to cleaning my office, making it more inviting and conducive to my work as a novelist. Then I cleaned my closet that I use for meditation.

Once I cleaned my environment, I found some simple suggestions that I could implement right away.

For sleep: I put a couple plants in my room. I started a gratitude journal. I changed my breakfast to include a healthy oil, a protein, & leafy greens. I added movement (stretching, push-ups, and sit-ups) first thing in the morning.

For hormonal balance: I color-coded a calendar specifically for charting my cycle.

Look for overlap

I quickly noticed that a lot of the things I was reading for improved sleep, hormonal balance, and goal setting had significant overlap. To make changes, I needed to create small habits, and replace the ones that weren’t helping me toward my goal. There were also similarities in dietary changes, morning exercise, morning sun, increased magnesium, and self-care.

Tools

I discovered that I already had almost everything I needed to work toward my goals. One important change I’m making every day is asking myself, How can I make this habit easier? For example. I want to increase my movement and exercise. I have a small rebounder (trampoline) and like to jump on it, so I put it in the office next to my desk. Now, when I get up I jump on it for a little while, I’m working on using it in my reward system for creating my habits.

I like using Microsoft OneNote for my daily priorities and planning. I created a 2022 calendar in Publisher and copied it into each of my categories, so I have a copy that is my novel planning calendar for my deadlines; I have my Sleep calendar to mark my successes and evaluate what’s working and not working; I have my hormonal cycle calendar which I color-coded for the phases of my cycle. I really like the notebook-like interface for organizing all of the things I’m learning, along with the small steps I’m taking.

A reflection of pink clouds and dark trees on the lake.
Each Small Step by Maria L. Berg 2022

Assessment

An important aspect of successful change is evaluating what is working and what is not working. Every little change I am making is its own experiment in the search for what is pushing me toward my goal of finishing novels, and what is pulling me from my goal. Every Sunday I will set aside time to hold myself accountable, honestly evaluate my progress, and plan the coming week’s course of action.

For this first assessment, I wanted to evaluate my original assumptions before setting up a weekly assessment. So I asked myself:

  1. Was my identification of my three main areas for change correct?
    1. Answer: They appear to be. Focusing my priorities has shown the fastest and most rewarding changes. My focus on getting derailed by my cycle paid off today when I was surprised by cramps a week early. I was able to work through it and adjust to the realities of my body. My focus on sleep is my most challenging, but acknowledging my fear of nightmares and the origins of my bad habits is a good start.
  2. Do I need to change the definitions of my three main change areas?
    1. Answer: I think I will refine my focus of my hormonal imbalance to Perimenopause. I will focus my sleep issues on PTSD and fear of nightmares. I think honing in on the underlying causes will help me with identifying the small, easy steps that I can turn into positive change. The Priorities area is defined by my identity as a novelist.

Now for the Assessment I will be developing for my weekly check-in:

  1. What went right last week? Here’s my exciting news! My morning routine is working. Even through stressful situations, I worked on my novel every day this week. I’ll talk about tiny habits, and my tiny habit system so far in my next post, but the exciting news is it is working! This week, not only did an unexpected computer breakdown make two days worth of work disappear, I also got my period a week early–cramps, fatigue, the works–and yet, I did my morning writing routine every day. So exciting.
  2. What didn’t go well last week? My night time routines. So far, all my good intentions and plans and steps lead to me just saying No, I don’t want to. However, I believe that many of my techniques aren’t working due to the weather–gray days, early sunset, cold, etc.–which will change soon-ish. If I keep working on every aspect I can, and try to concentrate on the root cause and the why for now, it’s possible the systems may fall into place as spring arrives.
  3. What small steps will I add this week? This week I am going to take a short walk after my first writing session.
  4. Is it time to increase one of my habits? I chose the goal of 500 words per day to create my writing habit. I almost always write more than that. So this week I will test 600 words and see how that feels.
  5. What else did I try? I wanted to review what is in my novel draft so far. Really look at my characters, props, clues, etc. and brainstorm an outline for the rest of the draft. I set a goal of “After lunch I will spend one hour reviewing my novel.” It only worked one time. Even though I enjoyed it, I haven’t done it again. So I will try it again this week as “After lunch I will review my novel for fifteen minutes.” That’s something I can definitely do.

Collecting and Organizing

Another priority that I’m adding to my Sunday is a period of time set aside for organizing all my notes and thoughts. I saw this in Welcome to the Writer’s Life by Paulette Perhach. As writers, we make notes. I have so many notebooks all over the house and yet make most of my notes in notepad on my laptop, or on random pieces of paper all over the house. I like the idea of creating a time and a place to organize all the week’s notes and thoughts. They aren’t doing me any good wandering all over the place.

Starting this week, I will create a system for organizing my notes and ideas into ways they can be useful for my novels, and toward meeting my goals as a novelist.

Next Sunday I will set aside an hour (or so, flexibility is important as you experiment), to organize my notes into useful categories and think about how they fit together.

Accountability

I know this has been a lot. I felt overwhelmed trying to figure out where to even begin to talk about everything I’m exploring having to do with finishing novels and motivation. This is a quick overview to share the main areas of my experience so far, and the first steps I took that were successful right away.

One area that every resource talks about is social accountability. I have found many times in the past that if I share my goals here on Experience Writing, I am more likely to achieve them.

I would really enjoy if you would like to join me in an accountability club. Every Sunday, type your goals in the comments, or leave a link to your post and we can check in with each other to see how we did with our goals.

My goals this week are to:

  1. Write at least 600 words of my novel every day
  2. Take a short walk each day
  3. Review my novel for 15 minutes every day

That’s it. I hope you will hold me accountable.

Can you help me with one other goal? I’m trying to create a consistent blogging habit. How often would you like to read these posts about finishing goals? Which day or days are your favorite to read Experience Writing? Thank you so much for taking a moment to type your answers in the comments.

We Can Reach Our Goals Together!

#SoCS: Every Day a Fresh Page

Exploring the Page by Maria L. Berg 2022

Today’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt is “page” which inspired me to really explore a page during my morning pages. I’ve meant to do this ever since I started using artist sketchbooks, but for some reason I come to the page every day and write in pretty uniform lines across the page. I had fun, and hope I continue to explore lettering and color and direction as I get my thoughts on the page. Thank you, Linda G. Hill, and my fellow Stream of Consciousness Saturday bloggers, for the little push I needed to explore the page.

I hope you will all come back tomorrow as I do a weekly assessment of the small changes I’m making to make this The Year of Finishing Novels.