What Can Be Done in a Week?

week-longA week is both longer and shorter than you think.

If you’re anything like me, you might set out on a Monday to do a laundry list of things, thinking that by Friday you’ll surely have time to complete them. Come Friday, you review the list and ugh! At least half of it remains.

As I was considering this sad state of affairs this past weekend, I noticed something interesting. While many boxes on my to-do list weren’t checked off, during the week I’d had a collection of small, interesting encounters. These encounters had started to shift things in my larger world. In fact, some challenged I’d have expected to work on for the rest of the year now had solutions right around the corner.

Which led me to ask myself: Is my to-do list full of the wrong things?

If PEOPLE can cause challenges to untangle, maybe I should spend more time making myself available. Maybe all that time spent on sorting, handling, drafting, researching, planning … maybe it could all be a little less important, if I only made myself more available.

Now, I’m sure that aimless availability wouldn’t have been helpful. But, since I’d spent a good amount of time in December thinking about my big-picture goals, this week, I was primed to pay attention to those things which might make the most big-picture difference.

Here’s a recipe for making progress that I plan to explore. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  1. Review my goals on Friday, note any progress over the week.
  2. Identify the chief obstacles. Right now, what’s immediately in the way? What do I need next?
  3. In relation to those needs and obstacles, think about the people around me. Consider the resources available through friends, co-workers, newcomers who have been suggested to me or who have just crossed my path. Or even online experts–bloggers, podcasters, and more.
  4. Decide: Who might I reach out to this week? Where might I go this week to encounter someone who just may have a new idea or solution for me?

 

When I go somewhere new or discuss a problem with a new person, I often find that creative doors and windows are thrown open. Solutions I didn’t expect alight on my shoulders with hardly any effort on my part. It almost feels like cheating. Except, it isn’t. I’m getting out of my own way, looking past my all important to-do list, and realizing that most of the time, the solution is closer than we think. All we have to do is ask.

So, that’s what I’m going to do. A whole lot more asking. Because I may not be able to check off all those to-dos in a week, but if I can ask the right question and toss most of those boxes off my list … well, I’d do that in a heartbeat!

How about you?

Story Matters

Stories matter.Do stories matter? When I come up against this question, I feel like I’m trying to defend an immutable law of nature, such as, say … gravity. I do that defensive thing and throw out a bunch of words about connection and empathy and imagination, my voice rising with passion. All the while, the person across from me nods and then says something along the lines of, “Yes, but in practical terms …” or “What will get her into college …” or “Where we need to spend our time is …”

What breaks my heart is the reply I hear most often: That’s great for you, but I’m not a writer.

The more I think about this commonly held belief, the more it bothers me.

Being able to shape a story is like having a superpower. Unlike most superpowers, this power is completely accessible to anyone willing to learn. How can so many people–the majority of people–believe that writing is for other (more creative) people?

Here’s what story-telling gives you the power to do:

  • Make someone laugh
  • Enchant someone, or a group of someones
  • Cause someone to feel what you feel
  • Change someone’s mind, belief system, or actions
  • Find a pattern of meaning in your own experiences
  • Change your own actions so you can live a more meaningful story

The list could go on and on. The trouble is, this powerful tool dresses itself in whimsy. Stories are so … fun. We consume them for entertainment. It’s so very easy to become convinced that nearly everything else is more important.

Is everything else more important?

Stories connect us, one heart to another. Whether we’re telling real-life narratives or shaping fiction, stories come from our lived experience. When we tell stories, we slow down long enough to pay attention. We find words to express what we see, what we feel, what we believe. We see where change may be needed, and what we can do to effect that change. Rather than an endless stream of experiences, we see that our lives have meaning.

Your life has meaning.

Don’t miss that crucial, beautiful discovery, just because someone told you that you didn’t have writing “skill.” We’re all story-tellers … we live in the midst of a cacophony of stories. Ours and those of everyone around us.

I’m on a mission, friends. I don’t want anyone to get lost in the foggy mess of life. I want to shout this truth from the rooftops: We all live stories–stories full of potential and challenges and victories. Just like any character in a story, our decisions matter. Every single one matters. What decisions will you make?

Some of you already do a lot of writing, but some of you do not. If you’re one of those who does not, would you do one thing for me? Think about a recent life experience. Break it into simple parts: beginning, middle and end. Was there a problem in it, or a challenge? Was any lesson learned? If you had to put the meaning of that experience into a sentence or two, what would it be? Now, set a timer for just five minutes and write that story.

If you are so inclined, share with me how the writing went. I’d love to help and support you on your creative journey.

P.S. I love this video on why stories matter.

Are You an Idea Hoarder?

Idea Hoarder

A round peg shoving myself into a square hole. Often, I feel that way. How about you?

So much helpful advice is flying around out there. Everyone, from your plumber to your online business coach, agrees that to be relevant, you need to provide strategies and resources. We tune in, and if you’re like me, you start hopping from one thing to the next. Ooh, you think, this blog post will help me solve my organization problem … oh, and ooh! This podcast will teach me to be fun and catch followers on Instagram … oh, and wow! This online course will teach me to slow down and pay attention to what’s important … and on and on it goes.

I wonder: When was the last time you listened to your OWN advice?

I’ve been struggling with a paradox for the last year or so. I long to help people tap into their creativity by encouraging them to play more, to strive less. And yet, I dread becoming another noisy distraction. I want to amplify YOUR voice, not drown it out with mine. These clashing desires have caused me to fuss about behind the scenes, trying to figure out what to say, what not to say, when to share and when to stay silent.

Recently, I pulled together a group of writer and illustrator friends  for a test-run of a marketing mastermind. We called it “marketing” but honestly, I was focused on a deeper issue that I’ve wrangled mentally for as long as I can remember. Let’s call it “life strategy for creatives.” Or, as I think about it: living as an artist.

TIME OUT for a moment. When I use the word “creative” or “artist,” I don’t mean only those people who have paint under their fingernails. I mean anyone who allows creativity to take the lead in their lives, be they stay-at-home parents, entrepreneurs, coffee roasters, chefs, musicians, master gardeners, strategists … you get the idea. If your primary role takes creative thinking and a commitment to your passion, in my book, you’re living as an artist.

TIME IN. Maybe you heard the well-meaning advice sometime along the way too: You can’t make a living doing that! My response was: I’ll have to, because that’s what I’m made to do. Faced with two options–finding a way to live as an artist or starving–I decided to tackle the life strategy issue. Growth happened in small increments, and I still faced huge bumps in the road. I had no idea that I had actually developed an expertise.

So, at our test-run meeting, I looked around the table at my friends, all of who have their own unique processes and none of whom would fit into a square hole. All of them are on their journeys, and none need “fixing,” yet they all desire solutions, too. Like me, they want to live as artists. And that’s when I realized … All that fussing about keeping out of the way was also keeping me from helping. I had a treasure hoard of gifts that I wasn’t sharing.

Hoarding is definitely not my style. So, here’s what I’ve decided.

  1. I’m going to stop fussing and start sharing.
  2. I’m going to trust you to make your own choices about when my voice is helpful and when you need to tune me out to make room for your own voice.
  3. I’m going to allow myself room to be on the journey, too. Sometimes I’ll have practical advice and other times, I may only have a question I’m starting to explore.
  4. I’m going to believe that showing up authentically, wherever that happens to be, is enough.

 

If it’s true for me, I bet it’s true for a lot of you, too. What are you fussing over or hoarding? You don’t have to package it up perfectly. Find a way to share, and trust us to approach your ideas with our own creativity.

Manage your Classroom for Play

Sometimes having fun in class is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. How do we strike the balance between making sure our students are having a blast, and maintaining a productive work environment? The key is filling up our educator tool-boxes so we’re prepared with classroom management when things begin to spin out of control.

Learn more about classroom management for Writerly Play in Writerly Play: Transform Your Teaching with Game-Based Strategies and Tools.

Host Writerly Conversations

Play opens up new possibilities in our storytelling. But how do we make the leap from play to paper? Two important kinds of writerly conversation bridge between play and writing. First, we host modeling conversations with the full class, in which we as facilitators think aloud as we connect the dots. Also, we individualize the learning through personalized conversations with our students writer-to-writer. These conferring sessions help students apply the general concepts from the day to their unique projects.

Explore strategies for conferring in Writerly Play: Transform Your Teaching with Game-Based Strategies and Tools.

Set Up Your Classroom for Writerly Play

The first day of any new writing class can be daunting. There’s a lot to think about. Maybe you have a new group of students to get to know, or you are introducing a curriculum that’s new even to you. The first day is a chance to establish guidelines, rules, and relationships, as well as get your students excited about the lessons to come.

Learn more about setting up your classroom for Writerly Play in Writerly Play: Transform Your Teaching with Game Based Strategies and Tools.

Playlist: Featuring Habit List

Essentials

 

Object: Taking Care of the Essentials First with Habit List

What Didn’t Work: Judging my day by an always-moving measuring stick. Running my moment-to-moment work based on whatever happened to be in my inbox in the morning. Making progress on projects that could be finished in a sprint but losing track of the small, daily actions that add up to something.

My Aha! Moment: I realized that while my to-do list was great for many things, it wasn’t the right place for those daily tasks that needed tending daily. Repeating tasks would show up in the midst of everything else (the urgent and not-so urgent) until I was numb to it all.

How I Play:
  • I assign tasks to the days they need doing. I order the tasks in the order they need to be done.
  • I use the feature that allows me to schedule certain tasks for once a week or once a month, so that they show up on whatever schedule applies.
  • I use the list first thing in the morning to tick through the essentials, before digging into email and the many variables of the day.
Player’s Notes:
  • Make sure not to include negotiable items in your Habit List. The list needs firm edges. Either it must happen before going on to the next item on the list, or it doesn’t need to. I use another app for those tasks about which I can be more flexible.
  • That said, I don’t just have chores on my Habit List. If I did, I’d completely resist the list. Items that I feel are important to my creative health or interpersonal relationships are on the list alongside items such as “floss.”

Take it to the Next Level:
  • Treat the Habit List as a process in revision. It’s important to review and see what’s on the list and isn’t getting done. The app tracks how long you’ve missed a task based on your proposed schedule. When something falls behind, ask yourself: Is this not a key activity for this season? Do I need to change something to make it more possible to complete this action?
  • Remember that habits can take 30, 60 or even more days to establish. Let yourself be in process, despite of the firm edges of your list. You will learn what’s actually essential, what can be dropped off the list, what obstacles are in your way, and how to be more successful as you go along. Schedule a monthly review to examine whether you need to make changes and to assess your progress.

 

NOTE: Habit List is the app I use, but there are a lot of similar apps on the market. Choose the one that works best and is most visually appealing to you. The more you like to interact with this app, the more likely you are to use it on a daily basis.

Play to the Page at Kidquake

Kid quake

Every year, the Litquake staff put together a special event to serve students in San Francisco during their literary celebration. This event, Kidquake, provides an assembly where kids meet and learn from authors such as Jim Averbeck (In a Blue Room, One Word From Sophia). Also, a few classrooms are chosen by lottery to attend a writing workshop. And for the past two years, I’ve had the honor of providing one of these workshops, using Writerly Play.

Now, I know play works. I see it work every day in my classrooms—helping kids move from stuck to story.

So, why am I always surprised after a sequence of games, when each and every student hurries to his or her seat to pour ideas onto the page?
If ever there was a moment that Writerly Play wouldn’t work, it would be at Kidquake. The kids are out of their school environment, on a field trip, and meeting me for the very first time. I don’t know their unique quirks and I only have one hour to create a meaningful experience. They may expect to have fun, but they’re also guessing the workshop will be stressful—they’re going to have to write. They are usually young, in first, second or third grade. Even though their teachers prep them for good behavior, the odds of true focus are pretty low. And then, in these circumstances, I ask them to “stand up, push in their chairs and imagine with me.”

I have to admit … I was worried. But, then, as I witnessed their grand success, I was reminded of some key of the reasons play works.

1. Play is efficient

While teaching a Writerly Play workshop, I facilitate the physical movement activities with a series of questions. I could, instead, ask similar questions and discuss the various students’ ideas while all the rest listen. Even though kids do learn from listening to examples from their peers, if the immediate reaction to the question is application—movement—to show the first idea that comes to each of their minds, they all engage simultaneously. Then, as the questions help them deepen their surface ideas into more layered concepts, they continue to learn while playing. Play bypasses resistance, and students learn without having to wrestle through their fears, frustrations or perfectionism.

2. Play creates an atmosphere of suspense

During a game, kids don’t know what’s coming. Ask any marketer, author or screenwriter and they’ll tell you. Suspense is one of the best ways to keep an audience with you. Writerly Play engages learners in an experience filled with an absorbing question: What story might be hidden–like buried treasure–in my mind? With each answer, more of the treasure is revealed, and writers are compelled to keep digging until they find the full picture.

3. Play leads to discovery

Our brains are busy focusing on playing the game, and while we’re distracted, ideas spring to mind. Nearly everyone has had the experience of being asked a simple question, and not being able to come up with the answer. Being put on the spot is one of the most sure ways to shut the human brain down. So, it makes sense that presenting the invitation to create in a fun and nonthreatening way would lead to better results. Rather than panicking at the blank page, writers can let go of their inner critics and their need to know every detail as they play. We can’t know how the story will turn out as we start, and that’s frightening. We need a process that allows us not to know as we develop the idea past its fragile beginning into something that feels more solid and steady.

I learn something every time I play. The higher the stakes, the more I learn. Even though I was anxious about how the class would go, in the end, when the students arrived, I let go of all my worried thinking and threw myself into the game. In fact, I allowed myself to truly play too. To model the map-drawing activity that the students would do, I drew my own large-format map using their input. They threw out all kinds of ideas. Some were simple to draw. Others, like the dog or the dog-bone bush weren’t so simple. I felt myself hesitate. I don’t know how to draw a realistic dog. Rather than stalling out, I just drew the first shape that came out–which in my own defense, did have rather dog-like ears. We laughed over it together, and when it was the kids’ turn to draw, I noticed they didn’t hesitate either, even when they didn’t know how to draw whatever they were about to create.

Play allows us to do what would otherwise feel beyond us–which makes it a powerful tool. What about you? Has play allowed you to do something beyond your own skill set?  Share in the comment section below, or on my Facebook page. I’d love to hear your stories.
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