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Category Archives: Writing

’til We Meet Again??

Parting is such sweet sorrow…breaking up is hard to do…this isn’t goodbye, but until we meet again…

However you want to say it, the end of a relationship can be hard. I’m struggling with how I should feel as I end a relationship that has brought me a great deal of joy, but has devolved into stress.

A year ago, I met a new friend. He’s someone I had watched from afar for a long time, someone that I had tried to meet before, but the timing never seemed to work. Finally, on November 2nd, 2012, I mustered up all my courage and introduced myself to…

The Marginal Writer…

Our friendship grew quickly.  He was eager to share his thoughts, words tumbling effortlessly onto paper, expressing his emotions freely. He made me laugh with his humor…sometimes he was deeply thought provoking, other times he just made me smile. A couple of times, he even brought a tear to my eye. But he was never shy about sharing what was in his heart. The early months of our friendship were rich and rewarding.

But a few months into our relationship, I started to notice that something was wrong. He didn’t seem as open as he had once been. He stopped coming around as often. And when he did, he had trouble sharing like he had before. I tried to figure out what had changed, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He was…different.

I wondered if I had done something wrong. Was I becoming boring? Had I said or done the wrong thing? Was there someone else? I couldn’t figure it out. And as time went on, he became even more distant.

I started becoming stressed. I felt pressure to continue the relationship…to make it work. I started forcing myself to be who I thought he wanted me to be. And yet, as time went by, it became clear that my relationship with The Marginal Writer was over. So today I am breaking up with The Marginal Writer.

I’m not bitter…I’m actually relieved. When a relationship ends, the closure and the finality is painful, but it allows for a new start. And I am moving on. I know that I will write again in the future. But I will no longer impose a deadline that increases my stress level as I have done for the past year. I’m excited about some of the new opportunities that have presented themselves…I’m busy. I’m content.

I’m relieved.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on November 3, 2012 in Self-discipline, Uncategorized, Writing

 

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2 Keys to Higher Productivity

I wake up at 5:30 am. I sit on the edge of the bed, stretch, smile, and thank God for another day. As I bounce energetically into the shower, my mind is flooded with thoughts and ideas…blog topics dance through my head, things I need to add to my “to-do” list crowd my mind, and I can’t wait to get done with my shower so I can sit down and start my productive day. Hopping out of the shower, I hurriedly dry off, tiptoe quietly back into the bedroom-being quiet so I don’t wake my wife, and I get dressed.

Walking into the living room, I sit down in my favorite chair, pull my laptop in front of me, and move the mouse to wake my sleeping computer…

And all my focus melts away.

It’s my own fault. Last night, I failed to close out the programs on my computer. So as soon as my computer wakes up, it tells me about the e-mails I got during the night. The web browser tells me who won the presidential debate. And my sports feed makes sure to let me know that the St. Louis Cardinals are in the playoffs AGAIN.

I get distracted by information overload…and the ideas that have been dancing through my mind in the shower moments before fade away. And now, 9 hours later, I look back at my day and wonder…

“Where did all the time go?”

“What did I accomplish today?”

“Why do I feel unproductive and vaguely depressed?”

The answer is simple. I allowed myself to get distracted from my morning routine. I have allowed a new morning routine to creep in, one that is dictated by external forces, and it is killing my productivity.

In a recent podcast, NYT best-selling author Michael Hyatt discussed his morning “ritual.”  For some people, this word has a negative connotation. But Hyatt defines a ritual as “a prescribed procedure for achieving a specific result.” What a terrific definition!

DOCUMENT YOUR CURRENT RITUAL

Hyatt contends that we all have a morning ritual, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Whether our ritual is helping to accomplish our goals is a different story. And he’s right! When I take control of my morning and stick to my “proactive ritual,” I get so much done, and I feel GREAT for the rest of the day. But when I fall into my “reactive ritual,” my focus wanders, and, just like a ship that drifts a few degrees off-course, I look back at my day and wonder how I got so far from my intended destination.

Hyatt offers seven steps to designing a morning ritual. I encourage you to read his blog article and listen to the podcast. I want to highlight the first two steps, because they are so critical to finding your path to productivity:

Acknowledge that you already have a ritual.

  • Again, this is not a BAD thing. We all have rituals, whether it’s how we dry ourselves off when we get out of the shower, or the route we take when we drive to work. Acknowledge that you have rituals for the way that you do things and move on quickly to step number two.

Document your existing ritual.

  • This is where the rubber meets the road. If you want to become more productive, you must first identify your current practices so you can see where you may be losing

My proactive morning ritual looks like this:

  1. Sit up as soon as the alarm goes off, stretch, say a brief prayer of thanks, and hit the shower.
  2. Get dressed, make a protein shake or a cup of tea, and sit in my chair.
  3. Write in my private journal.
  4. Read my Bible and pray.
  5. Open my computer and begin to write.

My reactive morning ritual looks like this:

  1. Hit the snooze alarm
  2. Hit the snooze alarm again.
  3. Drag myself grumpily out of bed.
  4. Stumble into the shower.
  5. Stand under the hot water for at least 10 minutes, hoping it will wake me up.
  6. Get dressed, sit in my chair, and open my computer.
  7. Surf the web for an hour.

I think you get the point.

THERE IS GOOD NEWS

I have identified my keys to a productive (rather than reactive) morning ritual. And they actually begin the night before! I need to do two things in order to prepare myself to be in the best possible position for having a good start to my day.

  1. I need to go to bed at a reasonable time. I have found that going to bed by 9:30 is essential if I plan to be productive the next day.
  2. I need to close down all of my desktop applications, leaving open only MS Word, with a fresh new page to write on.

Seems simple enough. And it is…Now I just have to remember to do it tonight…

And every night.

Because our attitudes are so much more positive when we are productive. And we can’t accomplish all that we are meant to be in this life if we mope around all the time with a bad attitude.

So identify your morning ritual…look for ways to tweak it…and add to your productivity.

 

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37 Days

It’s been a month…A MONTH…

Actually, 37 days to be precise…which is more than a month. But somehow, 37 days doesn’t sound as bad as a month. And that’s my problem…I’m trying to make it sound less bad than it really is.

It has been MORE than a month since I wrote a blog.

When I started writing, I had this vision of trying to share my life from a quirky perspective. I wanted to be able to encourage my readers. I wanted to make you laugh while offering a humorous view on the ups and downs of life. I imagined myself to be a modern-day Andy Rooney.

Andy Rooney died…

And so will this blog if I don’t get more serious about it.

The truth is that life, as is so often the case, is getting in the way. Health, wealth (or LACK of it), family, and friends have all bubbled to the top of my priority list, and I haven’t maintained my writing as a priority in life.

And that’s a shame.

Because I really do love to write.

I feel energized and motivated when I write. My brain engages, and the words come so fast and furious that I have trouble writing them coherently. As I get older, that “brain engagement” seems to come less frequently…so when it does, I get very excited.

I woke up this morning, and my brain was fully engaged. I was so excited to write, that I wish I could have taken my iPad into the shower. And as I sit in front of my computer, typing away, I glance at the clock…5:17 am. I am wide awake, fully engaged, and excited about the day before me. With a cup of hot milk tea by my side (my newest addiction, courtesy of my son, Matthew), my fingers are flying over the keyboard, capturing my thoughts as quickly as they can, straining to keep up with the voices in my head…and I can’t help but think:

“Why can’t writing be this easy ALL the time?”

The answer is simple…if it were so easy, everyone would be doing it. And then it would no longer be special.

So as I write this morning, I feel the energy…and I am embracing it. This is very much a spiritual experience. In the Academy-Award winning movie, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

I understand what he meant by that.

Because I believe that we are all made for a purpose. And when I take time to slow down and listen, time to let the words flow, not from just my brain, but from my heart…

The noise of the world fades away and I can feel God’s pleasure.

I get filled…filled with energy, passion, focus, motivation…all the things that give me the fuel to get things done in life…

My brain is slowing down now…the words are coming less easily. My fingers aren’t flying across the keyboard as quickly as they were just minutes ago. The pressures of the day are starting to dance around in my head. And I know that it is time to bring this rambling post to a close.

I hope that the words will continue to come easily to me over the next days, weeks, and months.

But even if they don’t, I need to sit down, in the quiet of the early morning, like I have done today…

And write.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Focus, God, Procrastination, Self-discipline, Writing

 

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It’s Not All About ME…(Anymore)

I’m a big weenie.

I hate to admit that, but it is becoming more evident to me every day.

Three weeks ago, I ran my first 5K. I made a big deal about it to anyone and everyone who would listen. I didn’t want to fail, so I put myself so far out there publicly that, if I DID fail, I would look like a weenie.

I didn’t fail in running the race.

But I have failed in the three weeks since then.

You see, I haven’t run at all since that race.

I haven’t written anything since the race either.

The two go hand in hand…

You see, a couple of days after the race, I injured my back. The doctor doesn’t believe it was race-related (thank goodness), but I have been in quite a bit of pain for three weeks. Multiple trips to the chiropractor and daily ice and heat treatments have been intermingled with my teaching course load, making it difficult for the back to completely heal. That’s the main reason I haven’t done any running for the last three weeks.

So why haven’t I done any writing?

Well, that’s where the whole, “I’m a big weenie,” thing comes in…

I am someone who has difficulty compartmentalizing various parts of my life. In other words, when one area of my life is not functioning smoothly, I can’t avoid having it spill over into other areas of my life. This is very frustrating.

And being in chronic pain has sucked the enjoyment out of my writing.

Even now, as I sit on an ice pack, I am struggling to force out words. It’s an effort, not a joy.

And to me, writing has been all about the joy.

Therein lies the rub…

I want my writing to become more than just a creative outlet…I want it to become a meaningful place for others to reflect and discover something in themselves, borne out of shared experience. I want people to resonate with my words…to be encouraged, chastised, convicted, and motivated. I want my words to drive people to take action.

And if that’s the case, then I need to be writing daily…not just when I feel like it. Good writers are disciplined…good writers write nearly every day…even if they write something that no one ever sees except themselves. And I haven’t even been doing that.

Instead, I have been completely unmotivated, resulting in a complete waste of time on mindless junk…like Facebook Scrabble and BTD5.

So here I am on Labor Day, 2012, celebrating the spirit of the American worker…and I’m not doing anything worthwhile.

I have to get up and go…I need to move. Even if it hurts…and I need to set a goal that will motivate me to run…and to write.

I have set that goal:

  • On October 20th, I will be running another 5K.

Now before you go, “Oh no, here we go again,” let me explain.

My last 5K was all about me, I admit that. I had to prove to myself that I could do something I did not imagine possible. But life can’t continue to be “all about me” or it becomes pointless. I firmly believe that our lives need to be centered on serving God and serving others.

Food Bank of Northwest IndianaSo on October 20th, I will be running in the “Hope’s Harvest” 5K run/walk to benefit the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana. I am looking for sponsors who are willing to donate any amount in support of the run. All proceeds will go directly to the Food Bank, whose mission is to support area food pantries.

I also want to encourage people who may want to walk or run themselves to be a part of our team! The entry fee of $25.00 also goes directly to the Food Bank and will provide all participants with breakfast, lunch, and a goody bag, including an event T-shirt. You can join the Cornerstone Food Pantry Team by clicking on the “Hope’s Harvest” banner at the end of this blog.

There you have it folks…I need to have a goal to pursue, or I get complacent…sluggish…unproductive… ok, I admit it; LAZY! But now that I have another short-term goal to pursue, I feel so much more motivated!

I also have the opportunity to help those in my community who do not have the resources to feed their families. What better way to serve? So get motivated yourself! Set yourself a short-term goal-something you can accomplish in the next 6-8 weeks, and something that will be a service to someone in need. Then, get off your butt, and get going!

 

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A Top Tip for Newbie Bloggers With Format Fever

Turns out you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! I know this to be true…because I am that old dog…and I just learned a new trick!

Veteran bloggers will probably scoff at me for this. They have probably known this for years. But I don’t care…because this is something I figured out for myself. And it makes so much sense.

I just finished writing another blog, and I was thinking about how to format it-images, hyperlinks, etc. I was also thinking about how “in the zone” I was at that moment…ready to write some more-brimming over with ideas, and I hated the idea of stopping that flow of ideas to format my next post…

Then it dawned on me…

Why would I stop the creative process to work on the technical aspects of writing? Accessing the creative process is the hardest part of writing for me…and here I am-staunching the flow of ideas to insert some html for a post that was already “in the can.”

Stupid, stupid, stupid…

It makes more sense to “open the floodgates” and let the words flow fast and furious…maybe I’ll write 2 more blogs…maybe I’ll write ten. But I can format them at the same time and schedule them at my convenience…

After the flow of words starts to slow.

LESSON FOR THE DAY

Don’t slow the flow…when you’re ready to grow, you’ve got to let it go. Then you’ll have something to show. And all your friends will say, “WHOA.” And your foes will say, “OH NO.”

Okay, that was really lame…maybe I should have slowed the flow a little sooner.

Anyway, write as much as you can when the creative juices are flowing. You can always format later.

The End.

🙂

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Focus, Self-discipline, Writing

 

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Guess What? I’m GOOD at Something!

If you’re good at something and you know it, is it tacky to acknowledge it?

I’m not suggesting that you display a lack of humility or brag about your abilities. That is clearly rude.

But if you have struggled with self-esteem issues most of your life-if you have honestly felt like you weren’t good at anything-and then evidence begins to mount that suggests that you ARE talented in a certain area, is it okay to accept it? Is it okay to step out of the shadows and say, “Hey, I’m good at something!”?

I think it is…

I have faced this struggle for many years.

As a kid, I was frequently picked on and beat up by the neighborhood bullies, no matter where I lived. It seemed like whenever we moved to a new place, the bully radar would go off, and they would come flocking to my front porch.

When you consider that I went to six different schools between kindergarten and my senior year of high school, there were a lot of bullies who took their turns beating me up. As a result, I always suffered from low self-esteem…

And I never believed that I was good at anything.

This belief persisted throughout my youth and early adulthood, and well into my career as an educator. For the first several years of my career, I was a high school teacher in Gary, Indiana. My students all liked me well enough, but I never thought my teaching ability was anything special.

Then I started teaching at a university…what a world of difference that made.

Faculty members at universities are required to focus on three things: research, service to the university, and teaching. It is the utmost desire (read: requirement) of the university administration that each faculty member be very good to excellent in at least two of these three areas. Since I am not a researcher, I have focused on service and teaching.

Since we are “encouraged” to be very good to excellent in these areas, there are a number of metrics that are used to measure our progress toward these goals. We are evaluated every semester by our students, we are required to submit an annual report to the administration that details all of our service, teaching, and research activities for the past calendar year…

And there are awards…

In 2001, one of my students nominated me for the top university teaching award. I decided not to apply. I didn’t think that I could win. Awards were for the really great teachers…

A dear friend, Dr. Robin Hass, encouraged me to apply. She had won the award previously and was the chair for the teaching committee. She told me that she had heard good things about my teaching. Robin was an exceptional teacher for whom I had an enormous amount of respect. I applied, more out of respect for Robin than because I thought I could win.

I won.

I’ll never forget the day that I ran into Robin in the stairwell and she told me that I had won the “Founder’s Day Teaching Award.” I was stunned…I honestly thought that I had no chance to win. And I thought that it was probably a fluke.

But I was grateful.

A year later, I won another teaching award, and a couple of years after that, another. Other faculty members started asking ME if I could observe their classes and write a teaching recommendation letter…even some of the Ph. D.’s! And as I looked at the people who were asking me to write letters for them, I realized that they were people for whom I had a great deal of respect…because they were excellent teachers.

And now, these people that I believed were excellent teachers were asking ME to write THEM letters of recommendation as they applied for other teaching awards, as well as promotion and tenure. Now, I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but even I could see that there was a connection here: good teachers don’t ask bad teachers to critique their teaching.

So I’m a good teacher…I accept it. And I am grateful for the abilities that God has given me.

And now I seek to serve others through teaching whenever I have the opportunity.

What about you? Do you have a skill, a talent, or a gift that you have never fully shared because you just didn’t think you were really good enough? Are you hiding your abilities from those you might really be able to help because of fear or insecurity?

Keeping our talents to ourselves is selfish…the greatest act of generosity is to give freely, expect nothing in return, and celebrate with the recipient when our gifts are received.

So will you be selfish? Or will you be generous?

Choose. Now.

 

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When You Don’t Feel Like It…

I have a problem…You see, I’m a writer…and a writer is supposed to, well…WRITE. But I’m not feeling inspired to write at the moment…

That’s not exactly the problem. The problem is that, whether I feel INSPIRED or not, I need to write anyway.

And I haven’t been.

You can’t get away with that in most other professions.

For example, just because I don’t feel like teaching my class doesn’t mean that I don’t show up and do it anyway.

If people didn’t show up for work, society would fall apart. Patients would die while their doctors hit the golf course. Retailers would lock their doors because no one came to work to take care of their customers. The transportation system would grind to a halt as drivers and pilots took the day off.

So why do I stop writing when I don’t feel like it?

Is it because I somehow view my writing as less important? Do I think that what I have to say doesn’t matter?

Or is it because I am just undisciplined…

That’s a statement, not a question.

It also answers the question, “Why do I stop writing when I don’t feel like it?”

I’m undisciplined. My days blow by without a plan. And, as the old saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

In a recent blog, Michael Hyatt writes about the importance of getting a handle on his schedule. He even includes a link to an excel file that lays out his “ideal week.” I encourage you to read it. You will benefit immensely, believe me.

What tools are you using to become more productive? Have you ever laid out a picture of your “ideal” day, week, or month? Please feel free to share how you are maximizing your time more effectively.

Because I need all the help I can get.

 

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