When Your Friend Writes a Book {Chasing Creative}

I don't remember the details of how I started following Callie Feyen's writing. It probably had something do with Twitter circa 2013. I do remember how we went from being occasional commenters on each other's blogs to that weird space of internet friendship: Abbie and I interviewed her in the early days of the Chasing Creative podcast. 

She spoke about writing and motherhood with more raw honesty than I'd ever heard before. She refreshingly didn't have much to say about building a platform or getting mired in the work of maintaining your personal brand. Callie was, and still is, all about the work: showing up and writing whether you feel like it or not. 

In that first interview, Callie shared a quote I will never apologize for recycling through my Twitter every few weeks:

It’s my story. Nobody is going to write it except for me.
— Callie Feyen

We had Callie on the show again in 2016. Her life had changed quite a bit since we spoke the first time, and she was going through a rough season of transition with a cross-country move and a major job transition. She didn't know where she was going yet, but she was still writing. 

So Callie took all that drive and energy, and she kept doing the hard work during hard times, and she came out on the other side with a published book.

We celebrated by having her on Chasing Creative for a third time to talk about how someone who was a little unsure, someone who has two kids and a job and not that much time to write, followed the threads of her own life and turned them into a book. 

This episode is for the ones who can't seem to find time to do the work, who aren't sure if they'll ever accomplish that big creative dream, or who are just plain worn down by the season they're in right now. (I'm raising my own hand here.) Callie will speak right to you and give you the hope and encouragement you need to keep pushing through. Listen wherever you find your podcasts or by clicking here.

The Teacher Diaries Callie Feyen

 

The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet is a series of essays on teen love and teaching Shakespeare to a group of adolescents. It debuted on Valentine's Day 2018 from T.S. Poetry Press. Grab a copy here (affiliate link).

Why I'm Giving Up Podcasts for Lent

I understand the spiritual practice of giving something up for Lent, but it's not something I've actively participated in as an adult. Either I never choose something soon enough, or I give up halfway through because my choice wasn't meaningful enough to me . . . the usual reasons I give up on setting goals or forming habits. 

(Or maybe it all points back to the arbitrariness of being encouraged to give up chocolate or pizza as a Catholic schoolchild . . . neither of which held much spiritual significance for me, but both of which made me resentful as a kid whose March birthday always falls during Lent.)

This year, though, I've been feeling unsettled. In this uncomfortable season of waiting and not knowing what's next, what I'm giving up for Lent seems to have fallen into my lap. 

And so, I'm giving up podcasts until Easter. 

The giving up

It probably seems like an odd choice, nearly as meaningless as candy. But here is what's been happening to me in increasing frequency over the past few months:

I wake up in the morning, and I scroll through my podcast playlist to see what's new. I distract myself from the chaos of getting the kids breakfast by choose one and hitting play. Hadley talks to me and I only half hear her. I tell myself it's just this once, just today, but of course it isn't. 

I get in the car and I turn on a podcast. I feel bored and I turn on a podcast. I fold laundry and I turn on a podcast. I tell the kids I'll build towers or color with them, but my mind isn't there; it's with a podcast. Reagan cries or Hadley asks a question, and I'm annoyed and impatient because they're pulling my focus away from the episode of the moment. 

In general, I think podcasts are a good thing. (Of course I do, or I wouldn't record my own.) I've culled my playlist down to include only the very best. The podcasts I listen to are filled with wisdom about creativity and writing, marriage and parenting, and Christian approaches to everything from money to business. 

The problem isn't with podcasts. The problem is with me.

In this rather stressful season, I've started relying on them in the hopes that they'll show me how to fix my life (at best) or escape from it (at worst). I've filled every moment of my day with chatter, voices that are wise but that have left no room for me to sit with my own thoughts or to notice any guiding signposts from God.

The taking up

Giving something up is the more well-known half of the Lenten practice, but the other option is to take something up (something I don't think I've attempted even once). This year, alongside giving up podcasts, I'm adding a new spiritual practice to my days:

Resting in solitude.

The idea comes from a book I read recently, The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz (affiliate link). The gist of it is this: Christians need contemplative prayer in our lives as a way to draw closer to God and to become better versions of ourselves. The practice of contemplative prayer has been largely lost (though I think it still has a good foundation in Catholicism), and we need it more than ever in this age of never-ending distraction.  

I'm removing the distraction of podcasts, and I'm taking up the contemplative prayer posture Heuertz recommends for my Enneagram type, 4 (rest in solitude). 

I'm a bit skeptical about this, to be honest. How much solitude can I be reasonably expected to find as the mother of a three- and one-and-a-half-year-old? But something about it feels right, like it's a missing puzzle piece that will help me hit "reset" on so many things that have gotten out of line. 

I don't expect a huge spiritual transformation, but I'll take even the smallest baby step in the right direction. 

What are you giving up / taking up for Lent this year? 

Overcoming Things that Drag You Down

Vacuuming. Dusting. Washing dishes. Thinking of food to feed the people in your house for three meals a day . . . then actually shopping for it, cooking it, and cleaning it up. 

Just reading this makes me want to sit down and watch something mindless on Netflix while ignoring the filth in my house. But ignoring the things we don't like doing isn't a good option. It's the adult equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing la-las to yourself while the things that have gone undone only continue to pile up higher.

These things that drag us down in life are almost always necessary responsibilities that need to be dealt with, but they're also the things that steal our time and energy away from our creativity. Luckily, Abbie and I are masters at finding solutions (or creative ways of just NOT adulting) so we can get back to the things we actually want to spend time on.

Join us in this week's Chasing Creative episode to find out which tasks we hate dealing with most and how we overcome them. 

What are your most hated responsibilities as an adult? How do you deal with getting them done?

What's Saving My Life This Winter

We've all got those small but important things that help us keep our lives on track in different seasons. Is it too dramatic to say that those little things are saving my life? Probably. But they're definitely saving my sanity, and I have no regrets about any of these. Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share the small things that are saving my life this winter. 

Saving My Life Winter 18.jpg

Knitting

I'm in a season of facing a lot of big Adult Life Decisions, and it leaves me feeling fried at the end of nearly every day. A lot of things are up in the air right now, and not only does that mean lots of decision fatigue, it also means living with a mind that won't stop racing because I can't handle not knowing the future.  

It's a stressful place to be. When I don't even want to pick up a book to unwind, knitting is a strong second for keeping my hands busy and letting my anxious brain focus on something with soothing repetition. I can even use knitting to deflect some of my stress while my husband and I are debating Big Life Decision options, which is a big plus for helping me stay grounded in logic and not let my emotions take over the conversation.

Root Vegetables

We try to eat seasonally, in part because non-seasonal fruits and veggies are absurdly expensive and not great quality here in Minnesota. That means winter is all about root veggies. And they're kind of the best, aren't they?

You can put them into any sort of soup, stew, roast, or just toss them on a sheet pan in the oven. Kids will eat them. They last for-ev-er. Winter dinners almost can't go wrong, and it's all thanks to carrots and potatoes.

Homemade Iced Mochas

Okay, so my espresso machine is pretty much always saving my life. But it's extra appreciated in winter that I can have a home-brewed iced mocha without needing to brave the cold and wind with the kids. (Or worry about getting in the drive-thru line only to discover that your car's window is frozen shut . . . not that that's happened to me more than once or anything.)

Rosemary Mint Candle

When the kids are behaving at Target, I almost always take a trip down the candle aisle. That's where I found my new favorite candle, Rosemary Mint by Smith & Hawken. (It's already out of stock online, so I'm definitely stocking up if it's still in the store the next time I go.) It smells light and soothing, and it immediately calms me down if I'm feeling stressed. It's my current go-to scent anytime I'm at my desk.

Runner ups in the "things that smell good" category is Bath and Body's Works' Aromatherapy lotion line. I hate going to their store because all the smells mingling together gives me a headache, but I love these so much I'm confident ordering them in bulk online. My favorites are Eucalyptus Spearmint to feel like you just walked into the spa and Lavendar and Cedarwood for an instant dose of calm.

Remote Start Car

I live in the tundra with small children. This is self-explanatory. Let's just say there's a world of difference between loading two kids into an ice-cold car when it's -10, and a slightly warmer car that's been running for five minutes.

Making Friends

I'm introverted to the core, but one of my not-quite goals for 2018 was to find more of my people and put in the effort to engage with them and grow strong friendships. In my head, I want this to look like finding those friends that are more like family, who can stop over or call anytime and it will always feel energizing rather than draining. The reality doesn't look anything like this (after all, friendships like that take time), but I've done better than usual at putting myself out there and finding people to connect with.

I've spent a surprising amount of time chatting with other writers this month, and it's been so good for my soul. Talking with people who get me has been like a giant exhale. I'm also (kind of? sort of?) starting to make more mom friends for the first time ever, which is the most awkward thing in the world but has the potential to be so good down the road.

What's been saving your life this winter?

 

January Book Report

January is done and gone already, and with it the five (!!) books I've already managed to read this year. I wrote earlier about my goal to read deeply in 2018. This is partially to make sure my reading life is aligned with my values overall and partially to make sure my reading doesn't eclipse other creative projects I'd like to tackle. 

I'm not sure if I'll keep up with these book reports every month all year, especially if I start reading fewer books each month, but this seemed like a good way to check in on how I'm doing with my goal of reading deeper.

Here's what I read in January and how each book fit my criteria for reading deeply. Check back to my original post about deep reading to learn more about the criteria I use when choosing "deep" books! This list contains affiliate links.

The Sentient Machine by Amir Husain

Deep reading category: Makes me think

Star rating: N/A. This one was so complex for me that I decided not to give it a star rating.

I'm a little bit of a conspiracy theorist at heart. One of my secret hangups is the fear that artificial intelligence (AI) technology is developing so rapidly, and oftentimes with so little care for the consequences, that it's going to get away from us one of these days. So when I heard about a book dedicated to exploring the future of AI and why we shouldn't fear it but should look for the benefits, I knew I had to read it. 

The Sentient Machine definitely made me think, but I disagreed with the author at nearly every turn. We just look at the world from such opposite viewpoints, it would have been almost impossible to get on the same page with the moral issues surrounding AI. Husain rushed headfirst into the benefits of AI based on ethical and moral assumptions that I, and I'm guessing many other Christians, don't agree with. He also referred to all the major religions as "myths" and, at one point, collective lies we tell ourselves as humans. So that's problem number one. 

Husain gave thorough breakdowns of what sentient AI could look like in different industries, but he never stopped to consider the ethical problem of basically creating a race of sentient robot slaves. Though Husain's arguments were interesting, they didn't have enough of a foundation to convince me of anything. 

Bottom line: Recommended for people who are already interested in AI or the future of technology. Pass for everyone else. 

A Simplified Life by Emily Ley

 

Deep reading category: Teaches something specific

Star rating: Two stars

I generally like Emily Ley's work, but this one left me disappointed. The goal of the book was to walk readers through different areas of their lives---marriage, parenting, wardrobe, spiritual life, etc.---and help them simplify each category so they could focus on intentional living.

Unfortunately, the whole thing was too shallow to be of much use to anyone. I've read blog posts that go deeper than some of these chapters! My (potentially too harsh?) opinion is that this was just another that was only written because a publisher saw potential in the author's platform. There was nothing new here, and it ended up being the opposite of deep reading.

Bottom line: Recommended for anyone who's literally never read a minimalism or simplicity blog or has never heard of Marie Kondo. Everyone else can probably skip this one.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Deep reading category: Outstanding writing

Star rating: Five stars

I'm a sucker for fiction based on fairy tales or folklore, and this one didn't disappoint. The Bear and the Nightingale is set deep in the heart of the forest in medieval Russia. Vasya is a strange, wild girl who doesn't accept that her only options in life are to marry or join a convent. She and her siblings have grown up listening to fairy tales about the creatures who lurk in the forest, especially those about Morozko the frost demon, but Vasya has never feared the wilderness. When the household gains a strict new stepmother and a priest from Moscow after Vasya's father remarries, something begins going awry with the forest spirits. It's up to Vasya to find out why if her village is to survive the harshest winter they've ever known.

This is one of those books with a plot that's tricky to explain, but the writing is gorgeous. Take it from me, it's better than it sounds. This is the perfect book with atmosphere, and the rich history of Russia make it reminiscent of historical fiction along with its obvious fantasy bent.

Bottom line: I'm tempted to say everyone should read this, but it's an especially good choice for anyone who loved The Night Circus or who's interested in Russia and folklore.

Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday

Deep reading category: Teaches something specific; could help me write a novel

Star rating: Four stars

Perennial Seller is the ultimate meeting place between books about making art and books about selling that art. Holiday dives deep into what makes certain works timeless. Why do people return to Jane Austen's novels as beloved favorites hundreds of years later? What makes one book or song or painting stick while others are forgotten? The conclusions Holidays reaches are fascinating and something I'll be keeping in mind with my own creative projects.

I was afraid this book would tend too heavily toward business and marketing, but that wasn't the case. Holiday spent the first third of the book focusing on the creative process. I especially appreciated his stance that mediocre work will never become timeless. It's worth it to focus on the art and create something great. I also liked his view that creating and selling art is a cyclical process: some seasons will be devoted to creating, and some will be spent marketing. It's when we try to mix the two that we get into trouble. As someone who's trying to go deeper with my focus on creative projects this year, that was such a relief to read!

Bottom line: Recommended for anyone who ever wants to create something that lasts, or even create something that sells. I think it's a great starting point for creatives who are skittish about the marketing world, but if you're currently burned out on business-y books, you might want to save this one for later.

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

Deep reading category: None

Star rating: Three stars

I cheated a bit on my deep reading goals with this one. The Rose and the Dagger is the sequel to The Wrath and The Dawn, which I finished in December. I didn't want to leave the duology unfinished for the whole year (even though I was pretty sure I wouldn't like the second book as much as the first), so I gave myself an exception. 

The series is a retelling of the Thousand and One Nights, with Shahrzad volunteering to become the next wife of the murderous king, Khalid, after her best friend is killed at his hand. It's hard to talk about the sequel without giving anything away from the first book, so I'll just say that it's a decent enough YA read. Once again, I was drawn in by the "retelling of a classic" spin, but the writing style really bothered me. I actually ended up skimming through much of The Rose and the Dagger just to catch the main plot points because the writing and POV switches were getting to be too much. 

Bottom line: It's a good middle-of-the-road choice for YA lovers, but nothing groundbreaking. (Though the series has a cult following, so I might be in the minority here.)

What have you been reading lately?

Trying New Types of Creativity {Chasing Creative}

We're always trying new things as little kids. Our parents, teachers, and friends are always encouraging us to sign up for that class or go to that summer camp or "just give it a shot."

And then we enter high school, where everything is more competitive (and more expensive), and the implicit message becomes "Only try this if you're going to be good at it."

In adulthood, you can pretty much forget about trying new things. You've got your hobbies and the things you're known for. No need to branch out now! At best, you'll embarrass yourself, and at worst, you'll fail miserably and waste a bunch of money.

But as per usual, my cohost Abbie and I disagree with this mindset. Who says we can't try new things as adults? Whether it's signing up for weekly piano lessons, taking a one-time watercolor class, or tackling a new project in the privacy of your own living room, we think everyone should make space for new creative endeavors in their lives. 

New creative projects can fill us up in so many unexpected ways. Getting uncomfortable, starting from scratch, learning something new, and even failing can all help us grow as creative people. We strongly believe that trying new creative projects is good for the soul, even if it's awkward.

Listen in to this week's Chasing Creative episode to hear more about the types of new projects we've given a try in adulthood, how we make room for them in our everyday lives, and the things we'd like to take a shot at in the future. 

When was the last time you tried a new creative project? How did it go?

Building Creative Habits {Chasing Creative}

In this season of life, I'm not a fan of setting goals. I don't like the pressure of tracking things that are barely attainable in my real life (and let's be honest: when you're seven months pregnant and have two young kids at home already, even basic things start to feel impossible). 

My solution for this in my everyday life is the more and less list. And in my creative life specifically, I prefer to focus more on making creativity a daily habit that just happens rather than inventing specific goals. 

I don't want my creative life to be a SMART goal with a finish line. I want it to be something that's part of my life forever, even when it looks messy and unclear. But without those specific goals, how do I make progress on my creative work? 

Abbie and I are chatting all about it in this week's episode of Chasing Creative: Building Creative Habits. We're less about setting and tracking goals, more about using our daily rituals and routines to build in space for creative work wherever we can. Click here to listen!

How do you form creative habits? If you're more goal oriented, how do you set and track goals for your creative projects?

What Counts as Creativity? {Chasing Creative}

What do you think of when you think of creativity? Do you recognize yourself as a creative person, or do you think your brand of creativity doesn't count because you're not a painter or a starving artist?

winter decor

In this week's episode of Chasing Creative, Abbie and I are taking down the myth that creativity only counts if it looks the way people expect it to. If you've ever struggled with doubts like these, this episode is for you:

  • "I don't make new art, I just reproduce what others have done from patterns or recipes."
  • "I don't get paid for my art, so any creative work I make doesn't really matter."
  • "My work isn't good enough to be considered real art."
  • "I only dabble in things here and there. I'm not creative, I'm just a hobbyist."

Click here to listen in (or subscribe!) and be encouraged about your own creative journey. Your version of creativity counts, we guarantee it!

How do you define creativity? Have you ever struggled with thinking you're not creative enough to count?

Reading Deeply in 2018

Traditional goal-setting isn't serving me well these days. That includes my reading goals.

Reading goals used to be one of the easiest challenges for me to take on. Pick a number, add it to my Goodreads challenge for the year, and get started working through that ever-growing TBR pile. Setting a reading goal used to be a great thing: it got me out of my post-college English major slump and reminded me of all the amazing books out there that aren't on a professor's assigned reading list.

But two recent conversations on the Chasing Creative podcast have me rethinking that strategy for 2018. In the first, Abbie and I talked in-depth about our reading lives and how they can help and harm our creativity. In the second, we dug into our (very blurry) 2018 creative goals and what we need to do to accomplish them.

Recording these podcast episodes made me realize that my current reading habits aren't doing me any favors. I've read between 30 and 50 books each year since 2014. During that time, I've also had two kids, grown a business, and am now trying to expand my creative writing into something that's more than just a fleeting idea I wish I had time for. 

Kindle reader on knitted blanket

It's time to admit that I need to cut back on certain things if I want to make room for others. That includes even good things I love, like reading.

So this year, I'm focusing less on the number of books I finish and more on reading deeply. I've noticed an uncomfortable habit of grabbing short or "fluffy" books that I might not have read otherwise just to try to catch up on my reading challenge. That's not a good use of my time, and it's not helping me round out my life in other areas. 

Here are the types of "deep reading" I'll be focusing on this year. (This list contains affiliate links.)

Books that make me think

According to the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading personality quiz, I'm an Explorer. One of my main reading motivations is to explore worlds, points of view, and experiences that are outside of my own bubble. Books that pull me outside of my life, not necessarily in an escapist way but in a way that makes me reexamine the way I see the world, allow my reading life to feed the rest of me in a healthy way.

The kicker is that I might not always like these books. I'll disagree with an author's point in nonfiction or the theme or character choices in fiction. That's okay, though! I go into books like this with the expectation that I'll broaden my horizons, so I'm not too disappointed if they don't make my Favorites list.

Books I read in 2017 that made me think: 

Real Artists Don't Starve by Jeff Goins (an example of a book I gave only two stars on Goodreads)

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Books with outstanding writing

Another reading quiz, this one from O magazine, tells me that I'm an Aesthete, someone who values strong writing above all else. This is 100% true. I'll forgive minor character flaws, plot problems, and pacing issues if the writing is stellar. On the other hand, I've rated bestsellers as one star because I didn't care about the gripping plot; I was too distracted by writing that reminded me of 5th-grade English class.

This category tends to land me in literary fiction, but I'd like to branch out and find books in other genres (and even nonfiction!) that make an impact with the quality of writing.

Books I read in 2017 that have stellar writing:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Books that teach me something specific

I have an embarrassing attachment to both the self-help and business/marketing genres. The problem is that these books are often too vague to actually make an impact on my life. I'll pick one up just because it's a buzzy new release without stopping to think about how it will actually help me right now. 

This year, I'll focus on books that meet at least two of these three criteria:

1. Will this book help me solve a specific business problem that I'm facing right now?

2. Will this book help me solve a specific personal problem that I'm facing right now?

3. Will this book deepen my knowledge of a topic I'm genuinely interested in right now?

My hope is that by limiting self-help books to specifics rather than picking up whatever's new and bestselling, I'll be able to actually put that knowledge to good use in my life.

Books I read in 2017 that taught me something specific:

The Dorito Effect by Mark Schatzker

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Books that will help me write a novel

I had to take a deep breath before putting this on the list. It seems like a bad time to start writing a novel, with a third baby on the way in spring, but I've got an idea that won't leave me alone and I'm taking a big step later this month to see where it leads. 

Reading books while writing a book can be tricky. You need to absorb good writing and inspiration by "osmosis" from other writers, but you also don't want your unique ideas and voice to get lost because you're emulating what you're reading. I'm not totally sure what this category will look like for 2018, but I think the fiction will include classics from the '20s (Fitzgerald, Wharton, etc.), and the nonfiction will be a stack of books on writing that have been languishing on my TBR list for too long.

What are your reading goals for 2018? Are you changing your habits this year?

P.S. Are we friends on Goodreads yet? Come find me there! I set my challenge goal for 35 books this year, which feels doable but won't allow me to slack and stop reading entirely.