Tag Archives: The Art of Work

The Pivot

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Computer and mouse

2014 was a momentous year for me, though not in a happy way. In May, 2014, I resigned from my second teaching career, which had given me joy and purpose for the first five years, and frustration and stress for the final three years. I kept hoping that things would improve, but instead, they just got bleaker.

As relieved as I was to no longer be teaching, I felt like I’d lost my identity; I’d failed—I’d given up on teaching. If I wasn’t a teacher, who was I? Although I’d heard that who you are isn’t the same as what you do, I just didn’t know how to define myself anymore.

Besides, I really wanted meaningful work and a regular paycheck. Over the next year I sent out 100 applications for employment; I made the short list for three positions, but I never landed one.

I was really disappointed, but I returned to my critique group and slowly started writing again. I had always said I’d go back to writing when I retired; I just hadn’t realized I was already retired.

In 2015 Jeff Goins released his book The Art of Work. I was already familiar with his writing; in fact, his 500-word Challenge jumpstarted my return to writing. The Art of Work made me feel comfortable with this next act of my life. The turning point for me was Chapter 5, titled “Pivot Points: Why failure is your friend.” Goins posits that each failure, whether it’s a dream that just doesn’t come to fruition or the loss of a job, is an opportunity to change direction, pivot, try something new. Many times we stick with what we’re doing, even if it’s no longer rewarding, because we’re hoping things will change, or because we’ve already invested so much time in it. We end up not trying something different until we’re forced into it—by failure. Without failure, we might never find that thing we were born to do.

Another chapter I found interesting was Chapter 2, “Accidental Apprenticeships.” When I was teaching, I was required to do other things that weren’t directly involved in working in the classroom. Each teacher was expected to maintain a personal page on the school website, which was to be the place parents could refer to when they wanted to know what their children were learning in your classroom. All of us went through training to learn how to design our webpages.

Also, teachers “volunteer” to do all sorts of things unrelated to teaching but important to the running of the school, things for which there is no funding. Teachers have “morning duty” and “dismissal duty” and “lunch duty” and “playground duty.” They sit on committees; they raise funds. For the last three years of my teaching career, I ran the Yearbook Club. With a bunch of fifth and sixth grade helpers, I put together the school yearbook. It took a lot of (unpaid) time, but it was also an artistic and creative outlet for me, laying out yearbook pages on the photography company’s software.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the tech skills I was learning were an excellent preparation for something I never expected to do—blogging. While teaching, I was unintentionally doing an apprenticeship for something else. Those myriad hours were not wasted.

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you planned. But that’s okay. It might initially feel like a failure, but don’t forget: it’s an opportunity to pivot to something that could be a better fit for you. Go for it!

My 8 Go-To Writing Books

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My 8 Go-To Writing Books

I love to read reading lists. I recently read 14 Books Every Writer Needs on Their Shelf by Pamela Hodges. As a writer and book addict, I have 2 ½  shelves devoted to writing books; Hodge’s list got me thinking—which are the books I refer to over and over again?

So here they are, the writing books I consider to be the essentials:The Art of Work

  1. The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. Not specifically for writers, but for finding your purpose in life. As it happens, Goins is a professional writer, and much of the book deals with how he found his path to a writing career. It also convinced me I’m on the right path. Click here to see an in-depth review.
  2. The Artist's WayThe Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron. Not just for writers, The Artist’s Way is a twelve-week crash course in removing blocks to your creativity. I went through the whole process many years ago, and I still practice many of the concepts I learned, but I feel the need to go through the process again (I’m putting it in my creative goals for 2017). Cameron’s spirituality is Zen-like, but I can adapt her ideas to be appropriate to my Christian worldview.
  3. Bird by birdBird by Bird: Some Ideas on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I will always love Lamott for giving me permission to write sh*tty first drafts. I’ve read several of her books and her essays on Salon.com and I love her voice. She’s earthy, witty, and despite her unorthodox theology, incredibly spiritual. The title of this book refers to advice her father gave to her brother when he procrastinated writing an ornithology report for school—“Just take it bird by bird, son, bird by bird.”
  4. Little, Brown HandbookThe Little, Brown Handbook by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron. Although many writers swear by E.B. White’s Elements of Style or The Chicago Manual of Style, when I have a grammar, punctuation, or formatting question, I grab this book. It’s well-organized and I can find what I need immediately. A detailed table of contents is laid out right inside the front cover, and a glossary of editing symbols lives inside the back cover. The St. Martin’s Handbook (I have that, too) is set up much the same way, as are many other high school and college level grammar books. Use whatever you like, but you need a good grammar reference.
  5. On WritingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I like this book not so much for the writing advice (he’s a pantser, I’m an outliner) as for insight into his process and his life. I love his break-out story. I like many of Uncle Stevie’s books, but I can’t force myself to read through some of them. I’m a little concerned about a mind that can conceive so much evil…
  6. PlatformPlatform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World; a Step-By-Step Guide for Anyone with Something to Say or Sell by Michael Hyatt. As the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S., Hyatt knows a little something about marketing, especially as it applies to authors. Reading this book two years ago convinced me I ought to write a blog, and that I probably needed to learn how to tweet. It got me out of my comfort zone, and I will probably reap the benefits for the rest of my writing career.
  7. poemcrazypoemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. Wooldridge conducts poetry workshops, and this book is sort of her textbook. I originally bought it for my daughter when studied poetry in college (she went to Bennington and I think she got to take a class with Mary Oliver; eventually she graduated with a degree in German); but when I flipped through it, I couldn’t bear to part with it. I’ve been working my way through the exercises in it this year, and when I’m done I’ll write a review of it for ARHtistic License.
  8. Writer's JourneyThe Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters by Christopher Vogler. Based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell. Vogler, while working as a story analyst for the Walt Disney Company, penned a seven-page memo called “A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces” distilling Campbell’s magnus opus. It’s reputed to have served as a plot guide for many of the Disney movies. This book grew out of that memo. I’ve used it to outline my novels. I was lucky enough to have Vogler sign my copy years ago when I met him at a writer’s conference.

Have I missed a book that you as a writer can’t live without? Let us know by sharing your favorite titles in the comments below (and a little bit about why you like them).

Monday Morning Wisdom #55

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Monday Morning Wisdom #55

Practice 1