Bookmarkable Wednesday: The Discipline of Passion

Lisa Rivero Bookmarkable Wednesday, writing Leave a Comment

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Bookmarkable Wednesday: Resources for writers and other creatives

“I don’t need discipline because I love to write.” ~ Jo Nesbø

The Discipline of Passion, Part I

A good friend sent me a link this week to Marion Dane Bauer’s “While I’m Talking about Aging,” a thoughtful piece about life, death, writing, and the choices we make every day:

“My discipline is the discipline of doing each day what I most love to do, whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s a day spent with my daughter and my grandchildren. Sometimes it’s a Pilates session followed by lunch with a friend followed by grocery shopping and preparing another meal for myself and my partner. (I’m one of those who loves grocery shopping and food preparation. It’s only putting the groceries away that annoys.) Sometimes it’s doctor’s appointments, of course, or other unpleasant necessities, but whatever else I’m doing, each morning I rise knowing the writing waits. And I always turn to it with gratitude.” Read more

Photo by Nate Steiner (CC BY 2.0)

Photo by Nate Steiner (CC BY 2.0)

The Discipline of Passion, Part II

To keep myself motivated during NaNoWriMo, I have been listening to podcasts for and by writers, especially when driving to and from work, and one I particularly enjoyed this week was a Guardian interview with Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. This was his answer to the question of how he keeps himself from getting distracted:

“I’m not disciplined, really. I don’t have any routines, but it’s easy because I love writing. I never saw writing as a job. I saw it as a privilege, to actually spend time writing. I try to keep it that way, and I mean this seriously. Writing is something I do when I have nothing else to do. I never decide that I’m going to get up early in the morning and write from eight to four. If I wake up at eight, I may get up and go to a coffee shop and sit and write for two hours because I want to. Or when I’m traveling I write in trains and planes. It’s as simple as that, I think. I don’t need discipline because I love to write.” Listen to more

While I do need to impose discipline on myself, there is wisdom in his words. The question we can ask ourselves is this: When we have “nothing else to do,” what do we do? If the answer isn’t writing, maybe it should be.

The Discipline of Passion, Part III

Finally, I was struck this week by Magdalena Kay’s “Leave Me Alone,” in which she asks, “How much does a scholar lose in work time when called upon to pitch, advertise, and network herself into a frenzy?” Although she is addressing academics primarily, her ambivalence about the conflicting pull toward writing and push toward networking is familiar to writers from many disciplines and genres:

“The fact is, I’d rather spend time writing, in as much solitude as I can muster, than advertise it. Should I tweet about forthcoming publications? Should scholarly work be advertised on Facebook? I cherish my minuscule group of Facebook friends, and can only imagine them ‘liking’ a publication out of loyalty and pity. When my publishers sent me sheaves of order forms to distribute at conferences, I slunk around hallways like a thief in the night, plunking down a stack in what seemed a good location and then scurrying away. Publicly begging for book sales just felt wrong.” Read more

If we truly enjoy time alone spent writing, isn’t that, at least in part, its own reward? As Kay concludes, maybe “it is time to reaffirm the value of quiet, solitary, unglamorous work, and to recognize its necessity as well as its pleasure.”


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Bookmarkable Wednesday

Lisa Rivero Bookmarkable Wednesday, NaNoWriMo Leave a Comment

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Bookmarkable Wednesday: Resources for writers and other creatives

It’s mid-week and time to pass along some good reads that have come my way recently.

Distracted much? Creativity as a pathway to learning.

Just in time to share with my Creative Thinking students, Scott Barry Kaufman offers insight into “The Creative Gifts of ADHD“:

“To be sure, ADHD can make it difficult for students to pay attention in class and organize their lives. The importance of learning key attentional control skills should not be undervalued. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. As the researchers note, ‘in the school setting, the challenge becomes how to create an environment in which creativity is emphasized as a pathway to learning as well as an outcome of learning.'”

NaNoWriMo TypewriterAs the morning goes, so goes the day.

If you read no other piece of productivity advice this week, be sure to make time for Scott Young’s “Build Your Morning Habits First.” Really good stuff. I find that the tone I set in the first minutes of my day carries through for hours. One of my strategies for November is to spend much less time on Facebook, especially in the morning. From Scott’s piece:

“I’m striving to be strictest on myself in the first couple hours after I wake up. Afternoons less so. And evenings I’m trying not to have much structure at all. Build the morning habits first and let them carry you to the end of the day.”

Stop reading right now!

Wisconsin writer Christi Craig offers superb advice for writers on her blog today:

“If you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and you’re reading this, STOP READING RIGHT NOW AND GET BACK TO YOUR WORD COUNT. If you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo but (like me) you’re deep in the thick of rewrites and struggling to find the time to finish, STOP READING THIS RIGHT NOW AND GET BACK TO YOUR DRAFT.”

National [Fill in the Blank] Writing Month

Flavorwire offers a host of ideas for how you can capitalize on NaNoWriMo momentum with DIY month-long projects, even if you aren’t an official participant. My favorite:

“National Flash Month! Write or work on a short essay or story every day. Google ‘daily writing prompts’ to get started. Or spend the first two weeks writing, the second two revising.”

Unlearn bad writing advice.

Finally, in Teaching as Unteaching,” Rob Jenkins discusses the ways he teaches his college freshmen writers to un-learn bad writing advice and habits. His tips are good for all writers, in or out of college:

“Students: Can we start a sentence with a conjunction? End with a preposition?

Me: To quote Winston Churchill, “That is nonsense up with which I will not put.” Seriously folks, the truth is that there’s nothing you can’t do in a piece of writing if you have a good enough reason.”

What bookmarkable resources have you found so far this week?

Happy writing!

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Mindful Self-Care

Lisa Rivero mindfulness 15 Comments

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Meditation is not easy, and it can be scary for anyone addicted to thinking. It is an exercise in not thinking.

Focus on the center point. You will see other distractions and stimuli at different parts of your vision in varying degrees of intensity. When you see one, note it, but do not switch your attention to it. Be mindful of the center and only the center. All else is peripheral. 

While hearing a version of the above instructions recently, I was not sitting in lotus position on a picturesque Himalayan mountain. Instead I was leaning forward on a rather generic looking office chair, a pirate-like patch tied over one eye, my chin and forehead wedged against hard plastic.

Photo credit: Pascal via (CC BY 2.0)

Photo credit: Pascal via (CC BY 2.0)

Anyone who has had a visual field test, which screens for loss of peripheral vision, will recognize the process of looking straight ahead at a center light while clicking a hand-held remote every time another light flashes anywhere else on the screen. Unlike previous versions of this test I had done, this one used a state-of-the-art machine that not only mapped what lights I noticed but also continually monitored how well I fixated on the center dot.

Meditation for Over-Thinkers

I have found that many highly intellectual people are wary of meditation. They think it is not conducive to creativity, too unscientific, too new age, too religious, or too, well, nonintellectual. However, especially for people who are thinkers first and foremost, meditation can be a valuable part of physical and mental health.

Meditation is not easy, and it can be scary for anyone addicted to thinking. Meditation is an exercise in not thinking. We are forced to be alone with ourselves without our intellect as a safety net. Our minds will balk and stray. We will fail to attend to our breath or the center or loving kindness over and over and over, and we will need to bring our attention back again and again and again. That is in fact the point. While we strive to get better, we also accept this aspect of our being human. This is not a test that we can fail, even while we are failing.

My husband and I have been meditating twice a day for a few years now. Those ten minutes at at time, each morning and evening, are as much a part of our self-care as good food or brushing our teeth or the occasional piece of dark chocolate. Why?

  • Meditation teaches us that we are not our thoughts.
  • Meditation helps us to become more aware.
  • Meditation can make us more compassionate and self-compassionate.
  • Meditation makes me feel like a Jedi (or at least a Padawan).

Meditation teaches us that we are not our thoughts.

Visit the next blog in the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Self-Care

An October 14, 2014 article in Scientific American by Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz and Richard J. Davidson, “Mind of the Meditator,” outlines three different kinds of mediation. The first is “focused-attention meditation,” in which we attend to the sensations of our own breath, and when “the mind wanders,” we then just “recognize this and then restore attention to the gradual rhythm of the inhaling and exhaling.

The goal is not to block out the rest of the sensory world, but to note it while maintaining our thought-free focus. The distractions that clamor for our attention, including our own thoughts, are treated as peripheral to the core of our experience, not forever or even for most of the day, just for the few minutes we are meditating.

I find this kind of meditation extremely liberating, a reminder that I do not have to identify with or even pay attention to the doubts, judgments, confusions, defensiveness, opinions, grudges, or any other thoughts bounding in my head like a caffeinated squirrel. What if I were incapable of language-based thought? Would I still exist? Of course I would (sorry, Descartes). I would experience. I would feel. I would witness. I would be aware.

Meditation helps us to become more aware.

The second type of meditation is “open-monitoring meditation,” more commonly known as mindfulness:

“[Mindfulness] requires the meditator to take note of every sight or sound and track internal bodily sensations and inner self-talk. The person stays aware of what is happening without becoming overly preoccupied with any single perception or thought, returning to this detached focus each time the mind strays. As awareness of what is happening in one’s surroundings grows, normal daily irritants—an angry colleague at work, a worried child at home—become less disruptive, and a sense of psychological well-being develops.” (Ricard, Lutz and Davidson)

So much of life right under our nose happens without our noticing, especially in our hyper-connected, multitasking lives. The late author David Foster Wallace put it this way in his 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon College graduates: “Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education—least in my own case—is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.”

You can read the full speech transcript, watch an illustrated video excerpt (below, about 9 minutes), or listen to Wallace deliver the speech in its entirety, in which he spoke of the real value of education, “which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time.” It is this awareness that allows us to make wise and compassionate choices.

This is Water from Patrick Buckley on Vimeo.

Meditation can make us more compassionate and self-compassionate.

Finally, there is the meditation of “loving kindness and compassion toward other people, whether they are close relatives, strangers or enemies. This practice entails being aware of someone else’s needs and then experiencing a sincere, compassionate desire to help that person or to alleviate the suffering of other people by shielding them from their own destructive behavior” (Ricard, Lutz and Davidson).

Sitting alone with ourselves for even a few minutes each day engenders a special kind of compassion. When we strip ourselves of the thoughts we hold onto so dearly and that we believe make us unique, we realize that the awareness at our core—the sentience of being able to feel, experience, and suffer—is what we all have in common. Breathe in: take in the experience and suffering of the world around you or a particular person. Breathe out: transform that suffering into loving kindness and compassion for everyone. Translate into everyday action.

This compassion also extends toward ourselves, as author and Buddhist monk Pema Chödrön explains in her 5-minute video on “Maitri” or unconditional friendship with oneself (see the Pema Chödrön Foundation website for excellent articles about compassion and mediation):

Meditation makes me feel like a Jedi (or at least a Padawan).

I have much to learn as a meditator and am truly at a beginner’s level, but those ten minutes of practiced awareness each day leave me feeling more capable and hopeful than any more tangible or worldly accomplishment.

Remember that visual field test I took on the fancy machine? The technician told me afterward that in all the years he has been administering the test, he could count on his fingers how many patients have had perfect “fixation” scores, meaning that their eyes never wandered from the center point. I was one of them.

“You could be an Air Force jet pilot with that laser focus,” he told me. Yes, he was conveniently forgetting the degree of my myopia in terms of pilot candidacy, or maybe that’s the line he delivers to all 50-something patients in need of a pick-me-up, but my minor accomplishment nonetheless made me inordinately happy. For a few moments, I was a Jedi.

Now, if only I could channel that focus while writing. Ooh, look, squirrel!


  • Ricard, M., Antoine Lutz, A., and Richard J. Davidson. R. J. “Mind of the Meditator. Scientific American (November 2014), 311, 38-45. Published online: 14 October 2014 | doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1114-38

See Also:

Visit the next blog in the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Self-Care: “When Gifted Overexcitiblities and an Introverted Personality Collide.”

This blog is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Self-Care. Visit all the blogs in this hop!

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The Power of Story Across Millennia

Lisa Rivero humanities Leave a Comment

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Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.” – Sophocles

What is the value of the humanities? One powerful answer comes from an innovative project called “Theater of War,” which presents readings and discussions of two of Sophocles’ playswritten over 2400 years ago about events and characters of the Trojan War—to modern audiences.

According to the project’s website, since 2008 a dynamic, ever-changing cast has given “over 200 performances of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes for military and civilian audiences throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan.”

“Plays like Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes read like textbook descriptions of wounded warriors, struggling under the weight of psychological and physical injuries to maintain their dignity, identity, and honor. Given this context, it seemed natural that military audiences today might have something to teach us about the impulses behind these ancient stories. It also seemed like these ancient stories would have something important and relevant to say to military audiences today.” Read More

US Army 53737 'Theater of War' compares historic and current reintegration challenges.jpg

US Army 53737 ‘Theater of War’ compares historic and current reintegration challenges” by Parker Rome – United States Army. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Theater of War project combines story, the arts, empathy, and communication to address issues of mental health such as suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Watch the video below to learn more (and see links at the bottom of the post).

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Creativity Boosters for Writers

Lisa Rivero Get Serious About Writing Leave a Comment

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As we come to the end of our series on Getting Serious About Writing, I want to share some ideas for ways to enhance our creativity that have nothing to do specifically with writing. The point of creating a writing life is that our everyday choices support and enhance our writing for the long-term. After all, writing is about so much more than words.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry, for publication or for pleasure, these suggestions will boost your creativity on and off the page.

Be willing to fail. By now, most of us know that failure is an inherent part of the creative process, but taking the next step from knowing to allowing ourselves to fail is not always easy, especially for perfectionists. We can start with baby steps that may not even involve writing, such as cooking and serving a new, complex dish that we are bound not to get right the first time or learning a new sport or hobby that requires that we expose ourselves as beginners.

Design a creativity-friendly work space. Within our available budgets and space we can recreate our work areas in ways that inspire rather than hamper our ideas.  Especially important is to have all of our writing tools—books, paper, pens, computers, whatever else we use—within easy reach rather than something we must “get out” each time we decide to write.

View constraints as creativity enhancers. A bare-bones writing environment, on the other hand, can also be good for creativity, as can time constraints. See Ben Chestnut’s video “Creating an Environment for Creativity and Empowerment” for more about the value of subtracting time from the creativity equation.

Learn something new. Dan Pink calls it “symphony” and “border crossing.” Tina Seelig uses the term “cross-pollination.” What they both are referring to is making connections between unrelated fields or topics to come up with something new. If you were an English major, broaden your horizons by reading some physics. If you are a technical writer who usually enjoys non-fiction,  a mystery novel or some poetry.

Dare to be complex. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has found that creative people often have complex personalities—they can not easily be pigeonholed as introvert or extrovert, for example, or disciplined or playful. They allow themselves to be whatever they need to be for the creative work at hand. If you normally think of yourself (or others think of you) as being the far end of one of his ten dimensions of complexity, make a point of “tryout out” another way of being.

Make friends with routine. Csikszentmihalyi also reminds us that routine is not the enemy of creativity. Far from it. Having a routine frees our mind from having to make dozens of time-sucking decisions—what to wear, what to eat, when to eat, when to exercise, whether to exercise. Those questions are already answered so that we can use our thoughts for more creative work.

Allow yourself to play. Having a playful attitude helps to loosen inhibitions and drive innovation, not to mention we have more fun! Making time in our day for games, humor, and other forms of play (when was the last time you made homemade playdough—for yourself?) a valuable investment in our writing life.

Pay attention. Tina Seelig, author of inGenius: A Crash Course in Creativity, explains that paying attention—simple but not always easy—gives us valuable knowledge we would otherwise miss and fuels our imagination. We can get better at paying attention “by actively looking at the world with fresh eyes, by seeing the ‘water’ in your environment, and by capturing your observations.”

Believe in your own creativity. Another of Seelig‘s reminders is one that many of us overlook: In order to be creative, we have to believe we can be creative: “Your beliefs are shaped by the language you use, and the language you use is shaped by your beliefs.” What is your personal, internal narrative about your writing and your creativity, and how can you change the words you say to yourself?

Blog posts here will slow down to two or three a week, and, as promised, once Create a Writing Life is ready in a few weeks, subscribers will receive information on how to get a free pre-publication copy. Have a creative start to September, everyone!

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