I like to process what I read when I study the Bible several different ways when I have time to really dig in. I try to read a commentary to see new angles, I take notes, and then I write and draw something that expresses what I learned and need to apply.
Today’s WIP is my doodle-notes page from Colossians 3. The text of what I wrote is below the picture.
I stand here every day in front of this closet and consider all the things I have to wear. I examine the clothes and think about how they will fit my mood or my activity or the way my body feels today. But really, I make a choice every day about what I put on and what I take off and what never even makes it to my closet for consideration in the first place. I must choose mercy and love and humility and kindness.
I must take off anger and greed and envy like dirty clothes and leave them in the heap of things that no longer suit this new creation of Christ, bathed anew in morning mercies.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us together in perfect harmony.
Everything can’t happen at once; it’s all a process, a one-step-at-a-time journey.
My brain is terrible at processing and accepting the fact that I can really only do one thing at a time. At any moment, if you peeked into my brain and asked what it was thinking about, the answer is probably, “Everything.” What do I want to write about? Everything. What do I want to paint? All the things. What task should I start to declutter and organize the house? Everything again. What project should I finish next for work? So. Many. Things. When do I want to do all these things? Right now. All of it. Now.
Did I say do it all right now yet? Because that what my brain thinks is possible if you ask it.
I have finally gotten proof copies of my book and read through it on paper one last time for a final edit, and it’s all ready to go for an official launch date of August 1. The hardest part of writing the book and getting it ready for publication was making myself sit down and work methodically. I spent probably a year outlining and researching, another two years after that writing the first half, one more year just getting the rough draft done already, and then it took me over a year to edit and format. It sounds like a labor of love that took time to come together, and there’s some small truth to that.
Mostly, though, my brain has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to finishing big things. I’ll get excited and dive into the deep end of learning everything I can about the new thing, and then, BOOM: shiny spot on the wall.
Time to learn all about that new shiny spot. But I still want to publish that first shiny thing and paint the shiny squirrel, and don’t forget about learning to play that instrument and organizing the sock drawer.
I understand that the shiny squirrel problem is common to writers/creatives, and I understand why if their brains are wired like mine. I love to tell stories in my writing and art, and everything around me has a story begging to be told. It’s hard to focus on just one at a time when I can hear so many whispering to me.
I also know plenty of non-writers who suffer from the shiny chicken affliction, and I understand them, too, if their brains are anything like mine. You see the possibilities of what could be done, and maybe you see most of the steps to make it happen. None of them are too hard for you to handle, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t tackle that project.
Unless you also have to operate in the real world, as most of us do…
We have multiple claims to our time even when we’re not running on a tight schedule. If you have family, friends, pets, a home, a job, a church, a hobby or two (or ten…), an illness to manage, or any other aspect of operating as a grownup, then you have competing demands on your time and energy.
And you have limits to your time and energy. It’s the ugly truth of humanity that we are limited creatures. Maybe in heaven we can do everything at once, but this side of the pearly gates, we have to manage with a linear time structure and limited energy resources. We have to prioritize and choose what gets those limited resources.
The frustrating part of that is whatever we don’t choose will suffer, or at the very least remain on hold until we have the time to focus on it. What do you do when you feel like the choice comes down to career or purpose or family? How do you choose when they’re all valuable?
This part is the silver lining to me. In making decisions about my priorities, I have to choose so carefully that I must limit my field of vision to just the most important things for that span of time. If I made the decision that those things were the most important tasks, it gives my shiny spot/squirrel/chicken finder permission to put on some blinders for a while so I can see just what’s in front of me. Prioritizing gets me over the hurdle of feeling like everything has to happen all at once.
Prioritizing makes me think harder about what my real values are and whether what I’m planning to work on or spend time doing reflects those values. I can say I value my daughter, but if I never spent time with her, my actions would demonstrate otherwise. (Sounds a lot like James 2:14-18…) Choosing my tasks with this big picture view ensures that I am intentionally living within my faith and moral code. It also limits my focus to a few big tasks each day so that I work with all my effort rather than in random spurts.
One step at a time isn’t all bad.
I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to completely ignore shiny spots on the wall, and it’s certainly inevitable that a shiny squirrel or two will run past the blinders. It’s not chicken-proof, but my mental tool to get back on task is to allow the thought to pop in my head for a second. Even if it’s ridiculous, I write it in an idea journal (or make a note on my phone if the journal isn’t handy) to save it for later. When I have time to take the blinders off, I can always go back and look at the shiny chicken later. The idea journal gives my brain permission to see a shiny spot, record it, and then get back on task quickly. I can let the new idea go for a while because I know it’s safe in the journal.
What mental tricks or tools do you use to stay on task?
Today’s profile is a woman who started out as a coworker, became a friend, and is always a force of nature. I admire Emily Johnson for her drive, her commitment to faith, and her brilliant smile that can light up a room.
Most recently, Emily launched WordPaint Cosmetics where she blends (See what I did there?) a fabulous line of cosmetics with her faith in one of the most creative concepts I’ve ever seen. I am very much in love with her web site, and you will be, too. While you’re there, definitely shop the Armory, and be sure to read the other pages. It’s so good and so fun and so smart. (There’s your three things, in case you were wondering.)
I’m always amazed by the creative works of people when I can see they are doing exactly what God designed them to do. Knowing Emily and working with her for years, I love seeing her shine with purpose. It’s beautiful.
Salaam Green, maybe more than anyone I know, recognizes that we are all works in progress, and she uses her gifts to help others heal and grow. I first found Salaam’s writing work in a Facebook group for writers, the See Jane Write Network. I instantly fell in love with her storytelling and the images her words spun up in my head.
As a writer who loves to encourage people to be creative and use that creativity to grow, I dearly love Salaam’s work of using journaling to heal. She founded the Literary Healing Arts Foundation as a way to help people write their healing into reality. Please check out her web site for the Literary Healing Arts Foundation. You’ll find her blog and a page with prompts as well as a way to submit writing for healing feedback.
The three things you need to know this Thursday are (okay, if I’m brutally honest, no one needs to know any of this, but you may appreciate knowing that, however you are coping with quarantine, you’re probably doing it with more grace than me based on these three things):
I prefer listening to the tiny human make ungodly noises with the recorder to her whistling, so I broke out the value pack of recorders and set the tiny human up with her choice of color. She then assigned her father and I our own colors and insisted he play. (We still haven’t tried the bagpipes, but I’ll be sure to share that joy when we do. You’re welcome.)
The tiny human needed to learn to use her newfound recorder powers for good, so I began internet searching for easy music and simple fingering charts for her to learn from. Then I realized color coding it to match her color coded rollup piano keyboard would be pretty smart, and then I realized that color coding the actual sheet music would be simple enough, and then….
Behold, a book!
I think it’s safe to say I have a problem. But in my defense, the finger chart is very nice, and my color coded music is fun to look at (and play – I’ve been practicing, too!) The dedication and copyright page are also moderately unhinged, so there’s that bit of fun, too.
Here’s the book if know of anyone in need of a new hobby.
I must focus on the most important things and channel my creativity.
My brain is very often a cluttered place to live. I’ll have a bazillion ideas at once, and it feels like I need to do them all, right now. It can be pretty tremendous pressure, especially when paired with the things already on my task list.
I understand this is a common pitfall as a creative person with my personality type, but I also understand it’s important for me to have some control over the brain clutter. I have learned a few important things in trying to tame the mess.
First, write it all down. I have a journal just for ideas. Random midnight genius inspiration? Put it in the journal and go to bed. Brilliant shower thought? Put it in the book and go on about the day. Putting it in a central idea space makes it easy to go back and pull out later when I have time to consider it and work on it.
The idea journal also gives me the gift of space. It frees my head space to work on the task before me first without losing that random inspiration thought. I don’t have to worry about forgetting it while I finish the open project. It also gives me some distance from the initial idea, so when I go back to it, sometimes I discover it wasn’t as brilliant as I initially thought. (I know, I’m as shocked as you are that all my ideas aren’t perfectly genius.)
Second, just say no. I say this like it’s going to be more effective than it was on the war on drugs when I was in middle school. It probably won’t be effective at first, but it will as you practice more. I’ve learned that if I say yes to every opportunity and every idea that comes along, I won’t do any of them well – if I manage to complete anything at all.
By limiting what I work on, I can be more productive because I can actually finish what I start. My pile of unfinished crafts is proof that all the things all at once is no way to live. The good news is, since I’ve limited the new projects I’ve allowed myself to start, I’ve been working through the old unfinished piles and completing more of them, too.
When we allow everything onto our radar at once, our capability and vision are limited by the sheer volume of stuff on the screen. If we narrow that down, we can channel more energy and creativity into a single project, making it stronger work and completing it more quickly than if it were one of a dozen projects open at once. That focus also makes it possible to move on to the next idea sooner.
If you’re anything like me, it’s a giant happy to finish a big project. That happy far outweighs the frustration of limiting what I take on, so I choose to focus on just a few things at a time.
Do you find it easy to say no to give yourself room to work on the most important things in your life? If not, what can you say no to that will give you some freedom to work on what matters most?
This Three Things Thursday, let’s think about that “New Year, New You” mindset. Most of us love the fresh start of a new year – new calendars, new goals, new resolutions, new you… But can we really just do a hard reset January 1 and be brand new people?
Thing 1: We can be made new in Christ, and God promises us new mercies every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). We don’t need a yearly restart; we can start new every day.
Thing 2: Old you is no slouch. Old you has made it this far, so don’t discount your past and what it can teach you.
Thing 3: Do you really want to be all new, or do you want to steadily improve? I look at my life and see a gazillion things I’d like to improve, but I can’t do any of them instantly. Even if I could, it probably wouldn’t help me long-term because I would have skipped over the work of building the habits that make those changes successful.
I quit making New Year’s Resolutions long ago. Instead, I make goals throughout the year and work on building habits that will get me closer to those goals. To that end, I love a good planner, and I created my own last year that’s worked brilliantly for me. So, if you’re a creative type who needs a little structure to keep your spiritual health, mental health, and meal planning running more or less smoothly, maybe it will work for you. Here’s a link to download the planner for free (no strings, no e-mail subscription, just a free pdf):
What are your biggest and smallest goals for 2020? My biggest goal is to get my book published. My smallest is to get the Christmas decorations down sometime this month. On second thought, getting the book published may be easier for me…
Discipline is most important if you’re going to accomplish big goals.
I find that I repeat this in various wordings and journal
entries and motivational memes for my vision board. I tell myself some version of this statement
several times a day.
I wish that meant that I was good at being disciplined about
writing and exercising and eating well and housekeeping and…
I have some very big goals, and I have some even bigger
dreams. And I struggle to stay on top of
my daily chores list to keep my life and my family running more or less
smoothly, much less knock off items on my goals list. I fight with the knowledge that if I sit down
to write or paint, then I am not doing something else worthy of doing on my
to-do list. I have to make space to
write, and that space will always come from the space of something else I could
It’s always a dance of time management. I think I have two left feet when it comes to
this dance. I am always scrambling to
keep up with parenting and housework and work work and goal work. It’s not really possible to do it all well
all the time. I know that, but I still
think I should be able to do it all.
Discipline does not mean I will do it all well all the
time. Discipline will allow me to work
in each space for a focused amount of time while maintaining an acceptable
level of slack in the other areas – when I’m good at it, anyway.
Without applied discipline, I have too much slack everywhere,
not enough focus on anything, and everything slides to hades in a handbasket. What I aim for is to keep doing small chunks
of maintenance work every day. I want to
spend less time more frequently doing things like cleaning my house or doing
laundry so that I can keep larger amounts of time every day open for goal work.
If I spend 45 minutes per day on laundry and housework, I
won’t spend 5 hours on the weekend doing it, which is when I usually get to do
the most writing and crafting. (I say
this like I’m an exceptional weekly house cleaner – I’m not.) If I do smaller weekly tasks every day, even
if I skip something one week, I will probably get it the next, and maybe it
won’t snowball into horrendously ignored levels.
Also, if I manage to stay disciplined on the small things
like completing a daily housekeeping chore, I feel less guilt about what’s
undone when I sit down to create. I need
to create, but I’m also responsible for a lot of other things. It’s hard to escape that pressure to get
everything else right before I spend time making something, but if I’m
disciplined enough to keep things in good enough shape, I can sit down and work
on the things that make me happiest without the nagging feeling that I should
be washing dishes.
Mostly, I need to practice discipline to actually get the
work done on my big goals. I’ll never
get my book published if I don’t do the steps to get there. I’ll never finish a painting if I don’t sit
down and do the sketching and brush work.
It’s great to have goals; it’s better to make them happen.
I’ve been procrastinating this step for months. I’d like to say something like, “I’ve been so busy with other things that I just couldn’t get this together until now,” but the truth is, I’ve been avoiding this part of the book publishing process. Like a good INFJ, I know that if I never put my book out into the world, I won’t be disappointed or hurt if it “fails.”
My definition of failure is all wrong, though. If I only want commercial success, I may indeed fail. If I want to fulfill my mission and share my story, then the only failure is to never publish. So…..
I am ready to write book proposals, and I would love some beta readers. If you’re interested in being a test subject, I need to hear from you. First, sign up for the e-mail list. You can do that here:
I’ll draw 5 subscriber names at random to send the beta copy to. Then, I need to hear from you again after you read the book. I’ll send a few questions to gather feedback, and you can add any additional comments that you think will strengthen the book.
When you subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll receive a free copy of a Colossians creative Bible study workbook. If you’ve already signed up, you’re already in the drawing. (You may also be wondering why you bothered to sign up since you haven’t been getting anything from me. I promise I have material scheduled to go out the rest of the month, so thanks for your patience!) You’ll also recieve two e-mails a week from me – one with creative Bible study material, and one with prompts to practice your art skills. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.
I’d really love your feedback and support. Thanks for walking with me through this journey so far!
I have been lost this week since I didn’t finish and print this month’s planner until today. I can definitely tell when I’m not reflecting and prioritizing my day’s work; my motivation wanders, and my brain feels scattered.
This month’s cover art is from a series of photos I took of the Vulcan statue in Birmingham, Alabama on a weekend with my sister several years ago. Vulcan is the Roman god of the forge, and his likeness presides over Birmingham whose primary industry when the Vulcan statue was created was steel. The back cover is a “cheeky” nod to the fact that everything south of Vulcan is continuously mooned by his apron-less backside (which is where I live).
If you used the April planner, I’d love to hear how it worked for you or if you have any suggestions. And if you try the planner this month and like it, be encouraged that I prepared June and July and have already scheduled them to post here on the blog before those months begin. 🙂